Have recent events caused a change of heart in the federal government regarding environment protection? The report released today by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment show no such signs.
With the recent emphatic rejection of the ‘dig it up and develop it all costs’ approach to government in Queensland, you might think that now would be a good time for the Commonwealth government to pause and re-examine its anti-environmental regulation ‘green tape’ agenda and the rush to entrust state governments with national environmental protections.
There’s no evidence of such thinking in the report of a parliamentary inquiry on the issue released today by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment. You’ll look in vain for any hint in the report of a critical evaluation of the Commonwealth’s one stop shop agenda or any examination of alternatives to the wholesale retreat by the Commonwealth from its responsibilities for matters of national environmental significance under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
The fact that the inquiry was called ‘Streamlining environmental regulation’ is a pretty good giveaway that the inquiry was unlikely to come up with any interesting or new ideas about how our national system of environmental protection might be strengthened and improved. Similarly, the fact that the Committee itself is dominated by Liberal and National MPs makes its wholesale endorsement of the Abbott government’s one stop shop program achingly predictable.
In fact in reading the report the only mildly surprising thing is the degree to which the Committee simply defers to the Minerals Council of Australia and the Property Council of Australia in responding to criticisms raised in submissions by organisations ranging from the Law Council to the Australian Environmental Farmers Network.
Concerned about conflicts of interest by state governments like Queensland scrambling to do everything they can to develop export coal opportunities while at the same time being entrusted to look after World Heritage areas like the Great Barrier Reef? According to the Committee ‘the MCA stated that these apparent conflicts of interest can be overcome’.
What about the fragmentation of national environmental protection across eight jurisdictions? The Committee turns to the Property Council of Australia who assures us that it’s not an issue – rather, the one stop shop will provide ‘much needed certainty’.
The Committee does preface the report with a ‘Note on Green Tape’ where they helpfully explain that when we hear the government and others referring to ‘green tape’ they are really only referring to ‘excessive environmental regulation’ with ‘no associated environmental improvement’.
Of course, what’s excessive environmental regulation and whether things are worth protecting depends very much on where your interests lie. By deferring so extensively to Minerals Council and the Property Council, the Committee has left us under no illusion about the interest being served by the one stop shop agenda.