The States have a very poor record on establishing good environmental laws and administering the environmental laws that they do have. There are environmental protection laws on the State books that they don’t even use. And for the laws they do have, these are regularly not monitored or enforced, as has been recently revealed in the Victorian context by a scandalous Victorian Auditor-General’s report. Just to give a little flavour, the ordinarily careful, cautious and forensic AG's office writes:
DSE's [the Department of Sustainability and Environment] deficiencies are substantial and require a concerted effort to address them. It has known about its poor compliance approach since at least its 2009–10 compliance review, but many of the fundamental problems with DSE’s approach to compliance remain. (page viii)
And the problem is not just limited to DSE. EDO Victoria has produced a series of monitoring reports analysing the implementation of environmental laws in Victoria, and the findings are disconcerting.
Why then would the Commonwealth consider entrusting the States with the national environmental law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act?
It has been shown time and time again that States do not act in the national interest when administering environmental laws. This is because they are States. Short-term economic and social outcomes are invariably more important to them, and these can (and have in the past) conflicted with national environmental protection priorities. This will not change overnight when the Commonwealth hands them EPBC approval powers and it is naïve to think otherwise.
Read more about the COAG attacks on environmental laws.