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Environment Laws threatened

If like many of us, you are visiting Munibung Hill, Glenrock or another local area of nature during lockdown, you could attest to the face that our parks and wildlife help our wellbeing. 

Yet the Federal Government seems set again to miss a unique chance to protect our natural treasures while everyone’s attention is glued to COVID news.

We know Australia as a nation is under enormous pressure when it comes to conserving our environment. 

Our current nature laws have overseen more extinctions than any other place in the world.   Australia far exceeds all other countries in mammal extinction and is one of the world’s leading deforestation hotspots.  Just this year we announced another thirteen animal species lost, a steady death by a thousand cuts of our wild places and beings. 

For the first time in years, we got hopeful when experienced economist and former ACCC chair Professor Graeme Samuel AC led an extensive Independent Review of our environmental laws.  The review considered over 30,000 submissions by concerned Australians and the views of more than 100 stakeholders, from conservation organisations to mining bodies.

Samuel managed the seemingly impossible, offering convincing, outcomes-focused reforms that could finally enable Australia to accommodate future development in an environmentally sustainable way.  

It would also cut down on the current inefficient piece-meal jungle of federal and state box ticking exercises. Key recommendations from the year-long Review included binding national environmental standards and an independent regulator.  With these recommendations under review in parliament we have a rare opportunity to strengthen our environmental laws and ensure adequate protection for our amazing wildlife and habitats. 

However the Federal Government’s response has been to push its controversial Streamlining Assessment (Devolution) and Standards and Assurance bills through the Senate, which only further degrades the quality and value of both those key Samuel’s recommendations.  The Standards and Assurance Bill introduces vastly inferior standards and a toothless commissioner. 

If this gets through, the Government will achieve what Samuel predicted: “To shy away from the fundamental reforms recommended by this Review is to accept the continued decline of our iconic places and the extinction of our most threatened plants, animals and ecosystems. This is unacceptable.”

Locked down and understandably focussed on COVID news, will we miss the pushing of these bills? Do we want to, in effect, stand by quietly?

This was adapted from an Op-ed in City Hub Sydney by Daniela Osiander.

Alec Roberts, member of Charlestown Wilderness Society Team, and Project Manager | Chair CLEANaS