Australian news, and some related international items

Federal environment law review calls for independent cop, but Morrison Government rules it out

Federal environment law review calls for independent cop, but Morrison Government rules it out, ABC News, By national science, technology and environment reporter Michael Slezak  21 July 20, 

A landmark review into Australia’s national environment laws has called for a major overhaul, including establishing an “independent cop” to oversee them.

Key points:

The 124-page interim report comes 20 years after the laws were first implemented by the Howard government
The report’s author has called for a “strong, independent cop” on the environment beat
The Federal Government has accepted some recommendations, but rejected the report’s call for an independent regulatorThe independent review into the 20-year-old Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC), released this morning, also flagged legally enforceable “national standards” to stop the decline of Australia’s natural environment.

“The foundation of the report was that there is too much focus on process and not enough focus on outcomes and that should be changed entirely,” Graeme Samuel, the review’s independent author, said.

He concluded that Australia’s environment was getting worse under the laws designed to protect it.

“Australia’s natural environment and iconic places are in an overall state of decline and are under increasing threat,” he said.

Environment Minister Sussan Ley immediately moved to rule out an “independent cop”, which was policy taken to the last federal election by the Opposition.

But the Federal Government accepted the recommendation for national standards, which she said would form the basis of agreements with states, allowing federal approvals to be devolved to the states.

If brought into law it would establish a “one-stop shop” or “single-touch approvals”.

The devolving of federal approval powers to states has long been the aim of the Federal Government.

The report calls for the Government to maintain the power to step in on any decisions it deems important, or when a failure of state processes has been identified.

The 124-page interim report comes 20 years after the laws were first implemented by the Howard government……….

Independent cop call

In his review, Professor Samuel, the former chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, said a “strong, independent cop on the beat is required”.

“An independent compliance and enforcement regulator, that is not subject to actual or implied political direction from the Government Minister, should be established,” he said.

“The regulator should be responsible for monitoring compliance, enforcement and assurance. It should be properly resourced and have available to it a full toolkit of powers.”

The call echoes Labor Party policy from the last election, which called for a federal environmental protection agency — a move backed by the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF).

ACF chief executive, Kelly O’Shanassy, said at the moment protecting nature was “optional”.

Regardless, Ms Ley moved quickly to rule out any new regulator……….

Funding cuts and approval delays

The review began in November 2019 but its findings were delayed by the bushfires and then the coronavirus crisis.

While the report was being prepared, the Auditor General released a report finding 80 per cent of approvals under the laws were non-compliant or contained errors.

Federal Labor analysed those findings and concluded that since the Coalition came to power, there had been a 510 per cent blowout in the number of environmental approvals delayed beyond time frames indicated in the laws.

The delays came as the government cut funding to the environment department, which Labor said was now 40 per cent lower than it was before the Coalition came to power…….

July 21, 2020 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, environment, politics

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