Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has announced that if elected, the Australian Labor Party would rewrite Australia’s environmental laws and create a new protection authority.
In explaining Labor’s policy, the Hon Tony Burke MP said the current environment act is now 20 years old and has never been significantly reformed – meaning that it’s in dire need of being brought into the 21st century.
“In 2018, it is bizarre that the national environmental law does not properly factor in climate change,” he said.
Labor’s plans involve undertaking significant reform of Australia’s environmental law, committing to an Australian Environment Act in their first term. This Act would aim to protect the environment, but also tackle the problems due to inefficiencies, delays and hurdles in the current law.
Australia’s existing layers of environmental regulation include the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act – due for statutory review in 2019 – an Independent Scientific Committee on coal seam gas/coal mining projects and a Federal Department of the Environment.
Labor would also establish a Federal Environmental Protection Agency ‘with the mission to protect Australia’s natural environment’.
“It will be informed by the best available scientific advice and ensure compliance with environmental law and have the ability to conduct public inquiries on important environmental matters,” explained Mr Burke.
However, Tania Constable, CEO of the Minerals Council of Australia said Australia’s minerals sector is already struggling with red and green tape, which delays projects, costs jobs and threatens competitiveness.
“Rather than making existing environmental regulation more effective and efficient, Labor will add another layer of green bureaucracy which will cost jobs, discourage investment and make it easier for activists to disrupt and delay projects,” she said.
Ms Constable said a one-year delay could reduce the net present value of a major mining project (project value of between $3 billion and $4 billion) by up to 13 per cent and cost up to $1 million every day.
“Analysis by the Department of the Environment in 2014 concluded streamlining federal and state environmental approvals would save Australian businesses $426 million annually, and the Productivity Commission concluded in 2013 that overlap and duplication between federal and state processes could be greatly reduced without lowering the quality of environmental outcomes,” she said.
“Labor will not grow the Australian economy by making it more difficult for minerals companies to create jobs and support regional communities.”