Changes to Australia's "landmark" environment and heritage law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act 1999, will give the federal environment minister more discretionary power to reject public nominations to protect areas of natural and cultural significance. The proposed amendments were tabled by the federal government in parliament on October 12 in a 414-page document.
According to the Department of Environment and Heritage, the proposed amendments will "benefit industry, the economy and the nation" by cutting government red tape, providing "certainty for industry" and making environmental decision-making flexible and more efficient.
Greens Senator Bob Brown urged Australians to "react with outrage" to the proposed changes, saying they would "slam the gate" on the public's ability to nominate protected areas. "While most other countries are strengthening green laws, this bill means Australian environment protection will be weaker than at any time since the Whitlam government", he said. "Under these laws, Fraser Island would be mined, the Franklin River dammed and the tropical rainforests logged."
If the amendments are passed by the parliament, "we will be left in a situation where the environment minister is a law unto himself", said deputy director of the Australia Institute, environmental lawyer Andrew MacIntosh. Australian Conservation Foundation campaigns director Denise Boyd said the proposed amendments would "significantly weaken third-party rights and appeared to undermine the process of public consultation".