Thursday 5/09/2013 Oliver Milman, The Guardian
A group of 28 lawyers have sent an open letter to Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott urging them not to water down environmental laws by devolving federal oversight of development to the states.
The lawyers, from groups such as the Environmental Defenders Office, Melbourne Law School and the University of Queensland, say they are deeply dismayed at plans to let the states handle environment assessments. They also warn that extending the controversial Regional Forest Agreements will increase conflict and lead to the loss of endangered wildlife.
Our iconic wildlife and environment are under greater pressure and face more threats than ever before, the letter says. We need to strengthen rather than weaken environmental protection laws.
There is no evidence to support the view that the states can be entrusted to thoroughly apply national environmental protection measures. However, there is, unfortunately, much evidence to the contrary.
The lawyers cite the plans to dam the Franklin River in Tasmania and introduce cattle to alpine national parks in Victoria as examples of federal intervention heading off harmful environmental impacts.
The Coalition, which appears certain to win Saturday's election, has pledged to introduce state-run one-stop shops for environmental assessments, claiming that they will reduce bureaucracy and provide certainty for businesses.
Labor has said it would retain federal oversight after contemplating the idea of devolvement when Julia Gillard was prime minister.
Opponents of the idea say under-resourced states have repeatedly put short-term commercial interests ahead of rigorous environmental protection.
Lauren Caulfield, vice-president of Lawyers for Forests, told Guardian Australia: The experience around the country has been more one stop chop or one stop bulldoze than one stop shop, such as the unlawful approval of the gas hub in Western Australia.
The states make short-sighted decisions that prioritise big business. We are being contacted by more and more legal organisations concerned about this. I think it's likely we'll see further legal ramifications.
Activists have been protesting in the days before the election, with members from Friends of the Earth and the Knitting Nannas of Toolangi aiming stop logging activity on Thursday through direct action in an area of the central highlands of Victoria thought to be prime habitat for the endangered Leadbeater's possum.
Meanwhile, new electoral scorecards released by environmental NGOs have heavily marked down the Coalition. The Australian Conservation Foundation favours the Greens and Labor on topics such as climate change, clean energy and cutting pollution, while WWF gives the Greens top marks across a range of areas, including protection for the Great Barrier Reef.