Pollution laws ignored over decades

November 23, 1994

By Jim McIlroy

BRISBANE — Revelations that Queensland authorities had ignored the total failure of the state's anti-pollution laws for many years underlined the urgent need for establishment of an independent environmental authority, Queensland Greens spokesperson Drew Hutton said on November 19.

Hutton told Green Left Weekly that the Criminal Justice Commission report into toxic waste dumping, released on November 14, had "graphically illustrated that Queenslanders had been living a lie for the past 30 years".

The report, compiled by former judge Harry Matthews, showed that the liquid waste industry was rife with illegal dumping. Regulation had failed completely, and contempt for the law was normal.

"This was known to the authorities at all levels but, at the same time, the community was left to assume that the facade of legislation and the existence of bodies specifically charged with responsibility were in fact addressing the issue", the report said.

The report also predicted that the state government's new Environment Protection Bill could fail to prevent future illegal dumping of liquid waste. The new system "may in fact lead to the development of a slightly more complex charade", Matthews said.

He said the laws were so ill-defined he was unable to recommend criminal charges despite clear evidence that the spirit of anti-dumping laws had been constantly flouted.

Hutton said he was "disappointed that individuals could not have been named, including cabinet ministers", when clear evidence existed.

The inquiry was called when Hutton and truck driver Brian Fox approached the CJC in September 1992 with direct evidence of widespread illegal dumping of toxic waste into sewers and drains and onto roads.

The report "doesn't sheet home any of the blame", Hutton said on November 14. "The people responsible for these environmental sins should feel the weight of the law.

"The Goss government has clearly lacked the courage to impartially enforce the full weight of the law, although it likes to give the impression of being environmentally minded", he said.

"They have continued the Bjelke-Petersen government's tradition of everything for the developer."

He said the government had refused to implement the major findings of the CJC's first report from the inquiry, which found "massive non-compliance by mine-owners" with environmental protection authority.

"Government departments, like Minerals and Energy, have shown they consider their industry promotion role as being more important than industry regulation", Hutton said. This is a major reason why a specialised environmental protection body is needed, "at arms length from government and business."

One feature of the new legislation is that it allows for private prosecutions, Hutton explained. He had personally launched a case against one illegal dump, which had resulted in its being closed, and this led to most of the others being shut down also.

"What we need to do now is to keep up the pressure on the government, to campaign for an independent environmental protection authority."

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