Report into federal environment law means more red tape, less urban development

21 December 2009

The final report into the review of the Commonwealth Governments Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, released today, has been heavily criticised by the Urban Taskforce.

The report was released by the Federal Environment Minister, Peter Garrett, following a 14 month review by Dr Alan Hawke.


The Urban Taskforces chief executive, Aaron Gadiel, said the review had failed to live up to its promise to reduce red tape.


The governments review concedes that the federal environment law is repetitive, lengthy, unnecessarily complex, and overly prescriptive, Mr Gadiel said.


But there are almost no solid reform proposals to reduce the red tape burden.


Instead, there are proposals to extend the dead hand of Canberra regulation to many more urban development projects across the country.


The review proposes a dramatic expansion of the Federal Governments power to intervene and stop development projects.


The new proposal for an ecosystem to be listed as ˜nationally significant will allow environment campaigners to push for Commonwealth intervention on any development project on the fringes of existing urban areas.


Until now, the primary decision-makers for such projects have been state and local governments.


Mr Gadiel said the review also proposes the Commonwealth abandon the approach to ecologically sustainable development that has been in use since 1992.


For the last 17 years, both Labor and Liberal governments have accepted that ecological sustainable development requires environmental, social and economic issues to be considered together, Mr Gadiel said.


Now the review is proposing that environmental issues be given first priority, and that significant social and economic issues be reduced to mere second-order considerations.


This represents a victory for extreme environment groups.


If this proposal is adopted, we could see the expansion of our cities halted on the flimsiest of environmental arguments.


Mr Gadiel said that a stronger command and control approach to climate change mitigation is emerging.


The review wants urban land release proposals to be scrutinised to see whether it can be reduced or prevented as part of a ˜cost-effective climate change mitigation opportunity, he said.


This will undermine the flexible market-based approach of the proposed emissions trading scheme.


Mr Gadiel said the reviews proposals make it easier for environmental groups and local opponents to litigate projects.


This will reduce opportunities for Australia to get the urban development it needs, he said.


The review expressly seeks changes to increase the amount of court action by third parties against government approvals.


It even goes as far as to suggest that any objector to a project should be able to re-argue the merits of a government decision in a legal challenge.


Weve argued for an increased ability for applicants to challenge arbitrary and capricious decisions by government officials thats necessary to boost investment confidence.


However, giving not-in-my-backyard activists a platform to challenge decisions will drench Australia in an American style litigation culture.


Mr Gadiel said that the Urban Taskforce would pursue these issues, and others, with the Australian Government and Opposition before any legislation was introduced in the second half of next year.


The Urban Taskforce is a property development industry group, representing Australias most prominent property developers and equity financiers.


For every $1 million in construction expenditure, 27 jobs are created throughout the broader economy.


The construction activity made possible by property developers contributes $78 billion to the national economy each year and creates 849,000 direct jobs.



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