THE Commonwealth’s Threatened Species Summit will take place in Melbourne today, while at the same time the Abbott Government continues with plans to devolve its national environment decision-making powers to the state and territory governments (the so-called “one stop shop”).
A national threatened species program that lacks any Commonwealth oversight and effective national impact assessment legislation is doomed to failure.
As the Summit kicks off, the Places You Love (PYL) Alliance, which represents more than 40 environment and community groups from around the country, is reiterating the fact that Australia is headed towards a mess of ad-hoc regulatory systems, where each of the states and territories is left in charge of threatened species impact assessment and approval procedures that will continue to fail.
“PYL legal analysis clearly demonstrates that currently no state or territory major project assessment process that may affect listed threatened species meets the standards necessary for accreditation by the federal government. We believe that the ‘one stop shop’ process will chronically reduce environmental standards and cause irreparable harm to our most critically endangered species and habitats,” said Glen Klatovsky, Director of the Places You Love alliance.
But the federal government continues to plan the relinquishment of its approval and assessment responsibilities under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), leaving ‘Matters of National Environmental Significance’ (MNES), which include listed threatened, migratory and marine species, at the mercy of state and territory governments.
Dermot O’Gorman, CEO of WWF-Australia urged the federal government to retain responsibility for final approval of all MNES issues. “Currently the federal government only has a role where projects impact our most important places and wildlife. These impacts transcend borders and cannot be handballed to the states and territories,” Mr O’Gorman said.
Mr Klatovsky said it was crucial that state decisions underwent Commonwealth scrutiny. “State processes are inherently compromised especially when there are multi-billion dollar mining royalties on the table,” he said.
In conclusion, Humane Society International CEO Michael Kennedy said: “Any new threatened species programs and monies offered by the Commonwealth are welcomed by the PYL alliance, but unless they are complemented by the very strongest federal environment laws that give the federal environment minister little leeway in decisions affecting the protection of listed species and habitats, then the efforts of one half of the threatened species recovery equation will simply and dramatically frustrate the other.”
Image: The Mountain pygmy possum is listed as Critically Endangered in the IUCN Red List. © Matthew Pauza