Antinuclear

Australian news, and some related international items

Australia at risk of losing its national environmental protection laws

The Business Council of Australia hastily prepared a discussion paper and released it the day before the Forum, calling for a slashing of so-called green tape. The Prime Minister agreed to the business demands and took the proposals to COAG. State and Territory leaders duly fell in line. As is the practice with COAG, the first official notification of the detail of the proposals was in the communique following the meeting.

It is a broad-ranging package of measures but most significant is the proposal for the Commonwealth to hand over responsibility for administration of national environmental laws to the States by March next year.

Gillard-Abbott-Environment

COAG’s Green Tape Agenda Is Undemocratic, New Matilda By Brendan Sydes, 4 Dec 12 The unelected Business Advisory Forum has been given special access to this Friday’s COAG meeting – and it’s calling for national environmental laws to be wound back. Brendan Sydes explains what’s wrong with the process

The goings on in Parliament last week might not provide the best vantage point to reflect on what we value in our democratic system of government.

Imagine, however, an alternative system where the executive arms of government meet behind closed doors and make crucial decisions on matters of national policy, where the agenda is not published beforehand and where the detail of policy only comes to light in a communique published after decisions have been made.

Consider further a refinement of that system which means that unelected vested interests get a seat at the table in the lead up to the secret meeting and get make their demands heard on key parts of the policy agenda.

That in a nutshell is how the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) and the recently-developed Business Advisory Forum (BAF) interact. COAG meets again in Canberra this Friday. The meeting will be preceded by a meeting on Thursday of the BAF, a new institution that appears to have been hastily cobbled together prior to the first COAG meeting in April this year. Its precise membership and terms of reference appear never to have been announced. Quite where or from whom the idea even came from is unclear.

Unsurprisingly, given these hazy origins, the idea that we ought to have a business body with special access to COAG has gone largely unscrutinised. The first meeting of the BAF took place the day before the April COAG meeting.

The Business Council of Australia hastily prepared a discussion paper and released it the day before the Forum, calling for a slashing of so-called green tape. The Prime Minister agreed to the business demands and took the proposals to COAG. State and Territory leaders duly fell in line. As is the practice with COAG, the first official notification of the detail of the proposals was in the communique following the meeting.

It is a broad-ranging package of measures but most significant is the proposal for the Commonwealth to hand over responsibility for administration of national environmental laws to the States by March next year. It is this proposal that has infuriated conservation groups, principally because it will undermine environmental protections. It will take us back to a period when the environment was left almost entirely to state governments with the Commonwealth government looking on from the constitutional sidelines.

Just as infuriating is the manner in which a change of such far-reaching significance became a national policy priority. The protection and preservation of our natural heritage is a matter of broad public interest. Our national environmental law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, is far from perfect, but it does represent hard-won gains from numerous campaigns calling for national leadership on environmental matters over a 40-year period. Environmental protection is not just an issue of business efficiency.

Back in 1983 the Hawke government took the significant step of drawing on international affairs powers to declare the Franklin River a World Heritage Area. This followed significant public debate and controversy. The commitment to protect the area was a central issue in the 1983 election campaign.

The legislation passed by the Commonwealth Parliament was the subject of one of the most significant High Court cases in the history of the Australian federation, the Franklin Dam case, with the High Court upholding the power of the Commonwealth to intervene using its international affairs powers to protect the environment, an area that had hitherto been solely the province of state governments.

In short the episode was one that traversed the full gamut of the institutions of our democracy — including no less than a federal election and a High Court challenge. The contrast with the proposal to hand back these powers to the States that the Prime Minister committed to at the behest of business could not be more stark……..

 

What needs to be done? Firstly, it is important to recognise that COAG is an important institution in our federal system. A national focus on matters on matters of national interest such as environmental protection but also other important issues (disability insurance, education, health) requires an institution that can foster coordination among multiple governments in our Federal system and get things done.

It is precisely because it is such an important institution that more attention needs to be paid to making COAG processes consistent with democratic principles. As a first step,COAG processes ought to be made more transparent and COAG more accountable. ……

 

A good start would be for individual members of Business Council of Australia and other BAF members to come clean with the Australian public on where they stand on the Commonwealth’s role in environmental protection.

One might expect miners and property developers to be enthusiasts for proposals to get the Commonwealth out of the environmental protection picture…….

But what about the rest of our responsible business leadership? Do BCA members such as ANZ, Qantas, and Woolworths for example, really support a wind back of our national environmental laws? They will have an excellent opportuinty to declare where they stand after Friday’s meeting….

http://newmatilda.com/2012/12/04/coags-green-tape-agenda-undemocratic

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December 4, 2012 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, environment, politics

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