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Environment: commonwealth has power, does it have the will?



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M ED IA RELEASE 3 4 0 Gore Street, Fitzroy

Victoria 3 0 6 5

27 May 1999 . Telephone: 0 3 9 4 1 6 1166

Facsimile: 0 3 9 4 1 6 0767

W eb: acfonline.org.au Attention:

Environment and Political Reporters

Environment: Commonwealth has power, does it have the will?

A Senate Committee Report on Commonwealth Environment powers which found that the Commonwealth had “extremely wide" powers was welcomed by the ACF today. The ACF said this is further evidence that environmental laws before the Senate needed major open heart surgery, if not rejection.

“This report is yet another demonstration that the Commonwealth has a strong platform for action to protect the environment," said John Connor, Campaigns Director. “The Government should use this report to radically overhaul its environmental laws currently before the Senate. Amongst other problems, these laws build secretive trapdoors into that platform."

In the report, the Democrats and ALP agree that the Commonwealth should have a strong national leadership role in protecting the environment The majority of the Committee rejected the concept of “national environmental significance” and urged greater action on Australia's international environmental responsibilities.

“The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Bill 1998 is the biggest rewrite of Commonwealth environmental laws for 25 years. The Bill identifies a narrow range of matters of national environmental significance for which the Commonwealth has approval powers. This list does not even include crucial national

issues such as greenhouse pollution, land clearing, forest management, water allocation or genetically modified organisms."

“Despite this narrow list, the Bill then provides up to 17 different ways by which the Commonwealth Government can duck its responsibilities. It either hands these approval powers to the states or exempts them by other means.”

"This Bill risks a dangerous lurch back into the 60s when states acted unchecked by the Commonwealth, and it was assumed that the Commonwealth did not have the power to protect the environment. Let's not forget that Joh wanted to drill for oil on the Great Barrier Reef and Robin Gray wanted to dam the Franklin. The Bill raises

the spectre of those ‘bad old days'."

“The majority Committee Report reflects the understanding of almost every legal academic in the country. The Commonwealth has “extremely wide" Constitutional powers over the environment. There are no obstacles in the path of a Commonwealth Government wanting to protect the environment but political will."

“The report is further evidence that the Bill before the Senate requires major open heart surgery, if not rejection."

For further information contact John Connor 03 9926 6736 or 0409 935 044.