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Environmental and industry groups condemn the government's new environmental legislation.

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MONICA ATTARD:  Environmental and industry groups, including farmers and fishermen, have condemned the federal government's new environmental legislation. The legislation, currently before the parliament, has been the subject of a Senate inquiry. It is aimed at defining the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth on environmental issues and setting a framework for bilateral agreements with the states. But as Robin McConchie reports, industry claims the intention is good, but the legislation is flawed and has been negotiated in secrecy.


ROBIN MCCONCHIE:  Farmers, fishermen, resources and environmental groups all say the legislation is flawed. Fishermen argue that under the legislation the Commonwealth environment minister gets the power over state fisheries. The National Farmers' Federation has concern over bilateral agreements with the states; the environment group, Greenpeace, says the legislation hands back too much power to the states which have appalling environmental records; and the World Wide Fund for Nature says the legislation fails to give the Commonwealth the power over land clearing and weeds.  WWF's Jamie Pittock.


JAMIE PITTOCK:  Australia clears something like 425,000 hectares of native vegetation per year which makes us among the 10 top countries in terms of destroying native vegetation. We are concerned that this vegetation clearing is the leading reason why we are losing biodiversity, it is causing land degradation, it is one of the leading causes of emission of greenhouse gases, and we would argue that it is contributing little to the growth of agriculture in Australia in this day and age. We are concerned that vegetation clearing is not listed as a matter of national environmental significant that would trigger environmental impact assessment.


ROBIN MCCONCHIE: And environmental group, Greenpeace, says the legislation hands back too much power to the states and fails to list global warming, land clearing and toxics as issues of national importance with the power for the Commonwealth to intervene. Greenpeace's Ian Higgins.


IAN HIGGINS:  The push for the Commonwealth to divest itself of responsibility for a large range of environmental matters, over to the states and territories to accept, is fundamentally flawed.


ROBIN MCCONCHIE: And that is because Ian Higgins says the states have appalling environmental records, but he is also concerned that global warming and toxics don't come under Commonwealth jurisdiction.


IAN HIGGINS:  Environmental and human threats from toxics and hazardous chemicals are not directly listed as matters of national economic significance. Under the model proposed by the bill, these issues will be left to state by state regulation, potentially resulting in lowest common denominator outcomes. A good example of this in Australia currently is the regulation of dioxins. These are the most toxic chemicals ever produced by humans. Currently, some states measure some emissions, but there is a great deal of inconsistency, ignorance and unwillingness to act across the country. This is a clear example of where the Commonwealth should be applying national standards, yet this bill in its current form offers no mechanism to do this.


MONICA ATTARD: Ian Higgins of the lobby group, Greenpeace, and that report from Robin McConchie.