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No time to remove environmental accountability

Environment Minister Greg Hunt has introduced legislation that would allow him to ignore expert advice when he makes decisions under Australia’s national environment law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.

The current EPBC Act states the Minister must heed expert conservation advice or his decision may be invalid.  Under the amendment he must still seek advice, but if he fails to heed it, his decision is still valid.

“Conservation advice is fundamental to making the best decisions on projects that have potentially harmful impacts on listed species,” said ACF’s healthy ecosystems campaigner, Jess Abrahams.

“Previously the Act allowed people to challenge the Minister’s decisions in the federal court, but this new amendment removes that possibility.

“The parliament should remember the objective of the Act is to protect the environment – this amendment removes ministerial accountability and weakens environmental protection.

“The Government is already in the process of attempting to devolve federal approval powers to state governments – a move that would see Campbell Newman, Colin Barnett and Barry O’Farrell in charge of some of our country’s greatest natural assets.

“The laws that protect Australia’s most significant environmental assets – our World Heritage areas, precious water resources, internationally significant wetlands and threatened species – are not ‘green tape’, they are essential safeguards for our life support systems. 

“These assets give us clean water and air, they pollinate crops and naturally control outbreaks of invasive pests.  

“The challenge for the new government is to create an economy that strengthens our life support systems, not one that pollutes and destroys them.

“Removing a layer of ministerial accountability and environmental protection is not a step in the right direction,” Mr Abrahams said.