Media Releases - 08 December 2020
Poll finds ‘massive gulf’ between community views and government plans for environment protections
85% of Australians believe it's important for the federal government to retain its environmental approval powers, rather than hand them to the states
67% believe that the public should have a say in deciding the strength of national environmental protection laws
51% of Australian voters believe that major corporations have the greatest influence over the Prime Minister and federal government regarding environment decisions
84% say all Australians should have a say in decisions which impact World Heritage Areas across Australia
Suzanne Milthorpe, National Environment Law Campaign Manager at the Wilderness Society, said: “Australians recognise that our national government plays a vital role in protecting nationally significant wildlife and World Heritage, and want the public and scientists to have the final say over the strength of our environment protections, not vested interests.
“But right now, a majority believe that major corporations—such as mining companies—have the greatest influence over the federal government regarding environmental decisions. And we see the Morrison government rushing ahead with a Rio Tinto-proposed plan to hand environmental responsibilities to the states, with no safeguards to make sure our nature laws are properly enforced or the rights of communities to engage in decision-making will be retained.
“Today’s poll shows there’s clearly a massive gulf between community expectation and government actions, and a major credibility gap when it comes to who is setting the standard for environment protections in Australia,” Ms Milthorpe said.
“Under the government’s plan, it’s unclear if and how communities will continue to be able to engage in decisions about nationally significant natural places, and the federal government needs to show how it will ensure Australians retain that right.
“You could see a situation in which a single state is making decisions that could materially negatively impact a World Heritage property like the Great Barrier Reef or Ningaloo, and only people in that state would be able to have a say.
“Yet a clear majority of voters believe that all Australians should have a say in decisions that affect globally significant natural areas like World Heritage Areas. When it comes to major projects that will harm or destroy nationally significant natural places, then all Australians should be able to have a say about that, precisely because these places are important to us all,” Ms Milthorpe said.
A YouGov poll released today shows that 85% of Australians believe that it is important for the federal government to retain its environmental approval powers over projects that may impact or destroy threatened wildlife habitats or protected environmental areas.
In September this year, the Morrison government rushed a bill through the lower house of federal parliament to amend Australia’s national environment law to allow the Commonwealth to hand its environmental responsibilities to the states. The bill has stalled in the Senate, with key crossbenchers announcing last week that they oppose passing the amendments.
In October, it was revealed that Rio Tinto had written to the Morrison government last year urging it to act quickly to transfer environmental approval powers to the Western Australia government, before a major review of national environment laws was complete and less than 10 months before the Morrison government announced its plan to hand their environmental decision-making powers over to the states.
When asked what they thought of the Gvernment’s plan to hand these powers over at the request of Rio Tinto, 60% of Australians said they thought it was a bad idea. The poll also showed that while just 1 in 5 Australians believe that large corporations should have a say in the formation of environmental protection laws, the majority of Australian voters believe that major corporations have the greatest influence over the Prime Minister and federal government regarding environment decisions.
Voters were also asked if they supported the notion that all Australians should have a say in decisions which impact the protection and welfare of World Heritage Areas in Australia, such as the Great Barrier Reef or Ningaloo. A clear majority said that all Australians should have a say (84%), compared with only 11% of voters who feel that just people who live in the state (i.e. Queenslanders for the Great Barrier Reef) should have a say in decisions that affect World Heritage Areas.
Earlier this year, it was revealed that the Morrison government started preparing its controversial legislation to amend Australia’s national environment law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) before it had received a report from an independent formal review into whether the act was working.
The final report from this review was delivered to the government on 30 October, but has not yet been released.
The polling was conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Wilderness Society between 23-26 November 2020.