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Corporate vested interests win as Australian Government weakens Environmental Laws

This Bill is fundamentally flawed in the core untenable proposal to divest national environmental responsibilities to States & Territories. State Approvals of major resource, mining and development projects are mired in ‘conflict of interest’, corporate influence and vested – not public – interests.

David Noonan, Full Submission to the Federal Environment Inquiry, 18 Nov 20, To: The Inquiry Chairperson Senator the Hon David Fawcett, ,   Senate Environment and Communications Legislative Committee , By email: ec.sen@aph.gov.au

Concern regards this rushed Inquiry into the flawed Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Streamlining Environmental Approvals) Bill 2020

Dear Secretary

This Inquiry is an unacceptably rushed process, and the Bill takes a pre-emptive and flawed approach to the EPBC Act. The public and the Parliament have a right to see and consider the Samuels Final Report, and the full suite of proposed EPBC Act Reform, National Standards and Amendments.

This Bill is fundamentally flawed in the core untenable proposal to divest national environmental responsibilities to States & Territories. State Approvals of major resource, mining and development projects are mired in ‘conflict of interest’, corporate influence and vested – not public – interests.

Due process and the national interest responsibility to the Protection of Matters of National Environmental Significance (NES) are compromised by this deeply flawed Bill and rushed Inquiry.

State control of EPBC Approvals is proposed through use of unenforceable “Bilateral Approval Agreement” instruments that are not fit for purpose, with little or no State law in place across Australia to even reflect the Objects, obligations and requirements of the EPBC Act.

The Bill unacceptably provides for ‘National Standards’ to be added to Bilateral Agreements with States, rather than legislated in the national interest in the EPBC Act and subject to national consultation and enforcement, with required national resourcing – rather than State paucity. The proposed accreditation process for States to take up federal EPBC powers is not even transparent.

It appears reckless that a core pre-requisite audit of State resourcing and capacity to undertake EPBC Approvals and enforcement roles has not been carried out at this late stage of events.

The Federal government is trying to expedite relinquishing national roles to Protect the Environment while declining to fund States to do so. This is a disrespectful indifference to Matters of NES.

Existing Cth-State Bilateral Assessment Agreements are not enforceable instruments and are not fit for purpose. For instance, no legislative or other mandated changes having been made in South Australia since taking up EPBC Act Assessment roles and responsibilities some years ago.

The non-statutory “EPBC Act Condition-setting Policy” further aligns the Commonwealth to defer to State Conditions of Approval and not set warranted Federal Conditions to properly protect MNES.

I have made a submission to the Independent Review of the EPBC Act, focusing on operation of the Act in protection of MNES under the “nuclear actions” trigger, and Discussion Paper Q.14 on failings of State roles through a case study on BHP Olympic Dam copper-uranium mine public interest issues.

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In the case of EPBC “nuclear actions”, including EPBC Act Section 21 & 22 controlled actions in uranium mining and milling, the EPBC Act protected Matter of NES is “the environment” – requiring “whole of environment” scope of impact assessments, and Protection of the Environment such that authorized actions do not have unacceptable or unsustainable impacts.

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The Samuel Review, Box 12 Nuclear activities (p.52) states: “To be able to ensure community confidence in these ‘nuclear’ activities, the Commonwealth should maintain the capacity to intervene. To achieve this, the key reform directions proposed by the Review are:

The National Environmental Standards for MNES should include one for nuclear actions. To provide community confidence, the Standard should reflect the regulatory guidelines and protocols of all relevant national laws and requirements.”

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However, the Samuel Review (p.110) specifies inadequate ARPANSA Codes as a ‘National Standard’ for nuclear action assessments; OR use of State frameworks judged compliant with these Codes.

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In addition, “graded” (limited) assessments as set out in ARPANSA Codes are to replace the scope of “whole of environment” impact Assessments for ‘nuclear actions’ – including for uranium mining.

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ARPANSA Codes can reflect vested nuclear industry practices rather than best scientific evidentiary standards. For instance, applying outdated 1991 era ionising radiation occupational exposure limits.

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Australia already has a failing record in regulation of uranium mining, in environmental protection and mine rehabilitation issues. Transferring Approvals to States and use of ARPANSA Codes in graded assessments will further compromise environmental protection standards and practise.

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By January 2021 South Australia will be the only Australian jurisdiction conducting uranium mining. A case study of BHP Olympic Dam provides a cogent context to evaluate this Bill & Samuel proposals.

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Importantly, “whole of environment” scope of uranium mining impact assessment encompasses social, economic, cultural and spiritual impacts, and not just environmental & radiological impacts.

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Outdated BHP Olympic Dam legal privileges that override Indigenous Heritage are now under scrutiny before Parliament’s Juukan Caves Inquiry, see Submission No.73 and 73.1 by David Noonan.

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It is typical that uranium mining disproportionately affects Indigenous People. ARPANSA Codes do not provide an appropriate basis to assess or respect Indigenous and Cultural Heritage issues.

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State governments in SA have failed to revoke BHP’s untenable Olympic Dam legal privileges.

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It is a travesty that BHP has deliberately retained 1982 era over-rides of Aboriginal Heritage across the 12,000 km2 “Stuart Shelf Area” around the Olympic Dam mine, and retains outdated legal rights to take excessive volumes of GAB waters affecting the integrity and very survival of GAB Springs.

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BHP’s influence in excessive mining of Great Artesian Basin water for Olympic Dam mine shows a State’s inability,

and given real ‘conflict of interest’, a State’s unwillingness to reform such issues.

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This scope is necessary to respect Indigenous rights and interests to protect their country & culture.

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It is a warning to this Inquiry that the State of SA has failed to protect the unique and fragile Mound Springs. The integrity of Springs relies on continued natural flows and pressure of GAB waters.

These Springs are a protected Matter of NES under the EPBC Act as a listed Endangered Ecological Community and are of significant ongoing cultural and spiritual importance to Aboriginal traditional owners, the Arabana People, who have called for real effective Federal protection of the Springs.

I commend the strong Arabana Aboriginal Corporation Submission No.92 (11 August) to the federal Juukan Caves Inquiry and the Arabana Chairperson’s call for protection of their GAB Springs: ……

 

Unfortunately, our springs are disappearing. … The cause of the disappearance of our springs, is water that is being taken from the Great Artesian Basin by BHP’s mine at Roxby Downs. … Unless something is done by the Commonwealth, our springs will disappear… It is unsustainable, destructive of nature, and destructive of our culture to allow the springs to die. Will you please enact laws that ensure our mound springs and culture are recognised, respected and protected?”

This Inquiry must not condemn the GAB Springs to State control of EPBC Act Approval powers.

Pre-conditions to protect GAB Springs from BHP water extraction were set by the Labor Federal government in 2011 but were not applied as BHP abandoned a proposed open pit mine expansion.

If this Bill were to go ahead, the State of SA’s ‘conflict of interest’ role and BHP’s influence in mining GAB waters will combine to continue the exploitation of underground water reserves and the decline in the integrity and very survival of the unique and fragile GAB Springs.

Community confidence requires the EPBC Act to retain Approval powers at a Federal level, and to retain the “whole of environment” scope of Assessments and Protection of the Environment in ‘nuclear actions’ as has been required in our national EPBC Act laws since 1999.

The Inquiry should take up the Arabana People’s call for Federal protection of their GAB Springs.

This brief summary of input is based on my experience: Including some sixteen years as an Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) Environment Campaigner 1996-2011; as lead author consultant on Joint ENGO submissions (ACF, Conservation SA, and Friends of the Earth Australia) to three BHP EPBC Act Olympic Dam Referrals in 2019; and with 25 years involvement across public interest issues in Olympic Dam mine operations and in matters of environment protection legislation.

Please feel free for the Secretary, Members of the Committee and any of their staff, to contact on any aspect of these issues, for further information, clarification or discussion.

November 17, 2020 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, health, politics

1 Comment »

  1. […] Corporate vested interests win as Australian Government weakens Environmental Laws.  Australian government is rushing to weaken Environmental Laws. […]

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    Pingback by to 23 November – the week in nuclear news, Australia and more « Antinuclear | November 23, 2020 | Reply


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