“Labor’s first priority must be to ensure any reform addresses environmental decline. Australians are relying on Labor to defend our natural heritage.”
She is speaking out amid concerns Labor’s policy will be dragged to the right by the Morrison government.
Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley on Monday announced a plan which she said would speed up major developments though a “one-touch” regime by using bilateral agreements to “devolve” to state governments the Commonwealth’s legal responsibilities to protect threatened species and World Heritage areas in assessments of major projects.
The Morrison government’s plans contradict several key elements of Labor’s environment policy – including a ban on bilateral agreements on environmental law.
The national policy states that “Labor will not support handing approval powers under the [Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation] Act to state and territory governments”.
Ms Ley revealed the government’s plan as former Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Graeme Samuel released the interim findings of his review of the EPBC.
The Samuel review called for a “tough cop on the beat” to police the state’s compliance with the EPBC Act, but Ms Ley has ruled this out and said the states could be regulated by a body which operates from within the federal Environment Department.
In June, Labor Environment spokesperson Terri Butler said she would consider federal-state bilateral agreements so long as the “twin focus of jobs and protecting the environment” were satisfied.
Ms Butler said Labor is now considering the Samuel review and the government’s response.
“We are yet to see the firm details of any proposed legislation,” Ms Butler said. “We will take a measured approach to assessing the interim findings. We will be consulting our caucus and the shadow cabinet.
“Labor has always led on implementing environmental protection and we always will.”
Victorian environment minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the state would support streamlining approvals as long as it did not come at the expense of the environment, and she wanted to talk through details with the Commonwealth.
Ms D’Ambrosio also said the community needed to be confident planning changes would protect threatened species and she wanted to know how the federal government would monitor compliance with the EPBC act.
“I’m keen to know how they are going to keep track of that because the environment is just too precious and there are too many animals on the cusp of being endangered, threatened or near extinction,” she said.
The NSW government is reviewing the recommendations of the interim report of the Samuel review.
“Since its enactment, the EPBC Act has provided important protections, but the results suggest that improvement is needed if we are going to protect and enhance our natural environment for future generations,” Environment Minister Matt Kean said.
“I look forward to working with the Commonwealth as the review continues.”
Protections for wildlife and ecosystems are falling short, the Samuel review said, and the “current environmental trajectory is unsustainable”. It found regulations of business were “ineffective and inefficient”.
Ms Ley said she will consult with state governments to determine a new national standard for environment protections, but has not committed to increasing habitat protection for wildlife.
Mr Albanese’s office declined to comment.
With Peter Hannam
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Mike is the climate and energy correspondent for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.
Miki Perkins is a senior journalist and Environment Reporter at The Age.