Updated: January 15, 2013
Winding back environmental protection puts everyone offside
Our National Campaign Director, Lyndon Schneiders, addresses a disturbing trend developing in Queensland and Western Australia of 'dumbing down' environmental approval processes in a piece published in the Australian Financial Review newspaper.
When it comes to reforming the environmental approvals process, it’s time for the chief executives of the big mining and resource companies, and their bankers, to have a quiet word to the ham-fisted governments of Queensland and Western Australia about their “green tape” campaign.
Because with friends such as WA Premier Colin Barnett and his Mines Minister Norman Moore, and Queensland Premier Campbell Newman and his deputy wannabe premier Jeff Seeney, they should be asking: Who is the greatest threat to their projects?
Last week Barnett, Seeney and Moore launched an election year campaign to “warn” the federal government against “politically motivated delays” to big projects such as the Cape York South of Embley bauxite mine and the James Price Point gas factory in the Kimberley.
This is comical considering the biggest threat to these projects is not the environmental movement but these inept governments’ artless attempts at fast tracking.
These men have built their reputations as unreserved supporters of the mining sector and strident opponents of environmental concerns and community opposition.
When UNESCO highlighted the risks shipping posed to the Great Barrier Reef, Newman’s response was “We’re in the coal business,” ignoring the reef’s $6 billion tourism industry.
They are winding back environmental protection, using the institutions of the state to suppress opposition and trying to cut corners to get their hands on revenue.
The Barnett government’s headlong race to develop the James Price Point gas complex has resulted in it twice botching its attempts to acquire the land.
It approved the project when four of the five Environment Protection Authority board members had conflicts of interest, and that decision is now subject to West Australian Supreme Court action. The approval was hardly surprising since the government is the project’s assessor and the proponent, through the Minister of State Development – Premier Barnett.
When some of the joint-venture partners considered other options for processing Browse gas, such as using a floating platform, Barnett turned threatened to legislate the development.
Queensland Deputy Premier Seeney is learning quickly as the real boss of Queensland politics.
He has moved fast to wind back environmental protection. He has placed the Co-ordinator General back in the middle of fast tracking big projects, and his government has cut funding to the Environmental Defenders Office to close down avenues for community opposition.
His government approved the South of Embley mine without knowing how many more ships it would send through the Great Barrier Reef. When Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke delayed approval, Seeney claimed there would be 30 shipping movements through the reef, yet when Rio Tinto submitted its environmental impact statement to the federal government it revealed there would be 600.
It’s a joke for Seeney to call Burke’s need to assess shipping through the reef another “example of an approval process that has been delayed because of political interference”.
Seeney’s government has no problem trying to tick off on inadequate approvals hoping nobody will notice, or will be too scared or not have the resources to seek redress through the legal system.
Corporate Australia needs to tell these governments they must meet the public’s expectations regarding due process and environmental protection. Otherwise there will be increased contestation and litigation and deteriorating market conditions and investor certainty.
Lyndon Schneiders is national director of the Wilderness Society.
Read the article on the AFR website (paywall)
For more information, please contact:
The Wilderness Society Inc