The 1999 Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act has failed on both counts.

It replaced legislation which required developers to present the minister with ‘prudent and feasible’ alternatives to their projects – for example, assessing the energy efficiency and renewable energy options when proposing a coal mine or gas fracking operation. The EPBC removed that hurdle.

Nevertheless, the Minister for (sic) the Environment, Sussan Ley, under the thumb of Prime Minister Scott Morrison, is now rushing legislation to extract the few teeth the EPBC has. She aims to get rid of ‘green tape’ so that miners, gas frackers, loggers, industrial fish farmers, national park resort developers and the bevy of other environmental leaners can get approvals quicker.

Ms Ley set up a review of the EPBC Act and appointed former corporate regulator Graeme Samuel to head it. Her aim is to disempower herself by devolving responsibility for Australia’s environmental and Indigenous heritage to the states and territories.

The corporate ‘developers’ love it. They have lobbying houses close to Parliament House in Canberra and their tax-deductible lobbying is bearing good rotten fruit.

It is not enough for them to await the almost inevitable tick-off by both federal and state ministers for the environment – like for the Adani coal mine, Snowy Hydro expansion or the multi-corporate ‘developments’ which are wrecking ancient Aboriginal rock art in the Pilbara.

Imagine their pain. Scientists take a year to begin reckoning where the migratory birds are foraging or nesting, even if the full-time locals like eagles, owls and koalas can be assessed and dismissed faster. They still have only a rudimentary idea of which whales are going where, let alone how or why Tasmanian highland eels make their once-in-a-lifetime cruise to somewhere in the Coral Sea and back. Waiting to find out more costs money and risks an informed public getting narky.

So Scott and Sussan are cutting ‘green tape’. Diddums to the environment. After all, most Australians voted for them knowing this was coming. The confidence in Canberra is palpable.

A week before releasing Samuel’s interim report, and as coal’s fortunes collapsed, minister Ley, in a fanfare of green bliss, refused to license one Queensland coal mine – to save koalas. She hit all the right public relations buttons.

Ley then blithely released the report, after sitting on it for weeks, and immediately killed off its key recommendation that Australia set up an environmental policing agency. Instead, the Morrison government will devolve responsibility to the states and territories with no need for policing of environmental law-breakers. Corporate bingo!

Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) have proved a satisfying trial run for palming off responsibilities to the states. After the EPBC bill’s enactment, the Howard government’s RFA Act 2002 sailed through the Senate with Labor support, despite the longest Greens-forced debate in history. The act handed responsibility for forests to the states with a faux agreement that forest habitats and wildlife were protected as if they had remained under the EPBC.

The outcome? Millions of hectares have been logged and incinerated, with impunity, to feed overseas woodchip and plywood markets. Rare and endangered species’ habitats have been flattened along with the hopes of campaigners from coast to coast.

Why shouldn’t all exploiters of the public commons get the same break? Hang about, that’s just what the Minister for (sic) the Environment is providing them.

Only public uproar might, at this stage, stop her. Morrison and Ley are so sure the press and public are with them, especially under the cover of COVID-19, that they’ve rushed their bill into parliament to gut the hapless EPBC even before Samuel delivers his final report in October.

They’re confronting every environmentalist in Australia.

As poet Drew Dellinger puts it:

what did you do while the planet was plundered?

what did you do when the Earth was unravelling?

what did you do

once

you

knew?

The Parliament House switch number is 0262777111.

Bob Brown

Bob Brown

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