Environmental campaigners have won a reprieve from plans by the federal government to hand environmental protection powers to state governments and fast track applications for some developments.
A discussion paper by the Business Council of Australia, prepared for the Commonwealth of Australian Government (COAG) meeting on December 7, made several proposals. These included:
· “All jurisdictions to commit to removing unnecessary carbon reduction and energy efficiency schemes (including green tape) following the introduction of a national carbon price on 1 July 2012;
· Accredit state environmental approvals to remove the Commonwealth’s concurrence powers;
· Low-impact, low-risk residential and light industrial developments that comply with the criteria in a planning scheme to be deemed ‘exempt’ from the development assessment process.”
In response to the proposals, online activist group GetUp launched a campaign to bring attention to the reforms, saying: “Australia’s federal environmental powers have demonstrated their value time and time again. They’ve been used to stop drilling for oil on the Great Barrier Reef, damming of the Franklin River in Tasmania and brought about the protection of some of our most precious places and wildlife. These threats will only continue to grow – from mining in the Tarkine to coal seam gas fracking and coal ports on the Great Barrier Reef.”
A protest outside parliament house in Canberra met politicians as they arrived for the COAG meeting. Prime Minister Julia Gillard later backed down on implementing the proposals by the planned deadline of March 2013.
The Business Council of Australia expressed disappointment at the “frustrating” reversal, saying on December 6: “There has been failure to make meaningful progress on the critical reform of eliminating costly double handling of environmental assessments and approvals under the national Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.”
Greens Leader Christine Milne said: “It is not a victory, it is simply a reprieve because of the concern of people around the country putting pressure on the government … It’s very clear that Julia Gillard and big business, gathered here today in Canberra as an advisory group to COAG, are still in cahoots about undermining environmental protection around Australia."