You have until September 11 to respond to a new Bill going before the Senate that could severely restrict the ability of environmental organisations to legally challenge decisions that impact the environment.
The Bill would repeal section 487 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (s487 currently extends standing to seek judicial review of decisions to certain individuals, organisations and associations).
The Federal Attorney General, George Brandis, announced his intention to severely limit standing provisions as to who can bring legal challenges against Federal environmental approvals, naming it ‘lawfare’ and calling us ‘vigilantes’. He intends to repeal s487 (2) of the EPBC Act 1999, so that community groups with an interest in the environment can no longer challenge approvals of major projects that impact on Matters of National Environmental Significance. You can view the Bill here.
George Brandis has already cut all funds to Environmental Defenders Offices across Australia, which provide critical environmental legal services, including the EDO NT.
This is an unprecedented attack on our ability to object to proposed developments that may harm the environment.
What does this mean for you, the Environment Centre NT and the environment in Australia?
As the Environment Centre NT’s recent court case win over the NT Government demonstrated, it is in the interest of good policy and ecologically sustainable development that legal avenues are available to protect the environment against bad decision-making and potentially damaging developments.
In May this year, Justice Hiley found in favour of the NT Minister for Land Resource Management, Willem Westra van Holthe, repeatedly and unlawfully violated the Water Act and ordered the Minister to review the allocation of the 18 water licences under scrutiny, upholding a legal challenge by the Environment Centre NT.
Rather than condemn the court and environment groups, Mr Westra van Holthe told the Katherine Times he welcomed the Supreme Court’s findings, stating “This provides us with further clarity as to the way the minister needs to deal with reviews of the water controller’s decision.”
The option of third party appeals creates a stronger incentive for proponents and the government to adhere to the law – improving the quality of environmental assessment of major projects. It is not the actual exercise of the power to enforce public rights that matters most but the threat that they will be exercised that brings improved accountability to an approval system that can be plagued by vested interests.
Third party rights have been found to improve decision-making, including by the Independent Commissions Against Corruption in NSW when looking at the quality of planning decisions . They state the benefits include:
1. They build community confidence in the planning system;
2. They guard against corruption;
3. They result in better environmental assessments and outcomes.
“Merit appeals provide a safeguard against biased decision-making by consent authorities and enhance the accountability of these authorities. The extension of third party merit appeals acts as a disincentive for corrupt decision-making by consent authorities.”
How to make a submission
Lodging a submission to the Senate Committee is easy. A template is attached to assist you. The government also provides advice on submissions.
You can contact the Inquiry Secretariat on 02 6277 3526 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Submissions are due on Friday 11 September.
Please encourage your friends and colleagues to put a submission in as well!
SIGN THE TWO PETITIONS NOW!
We have prepared two petitions below. One goes to the Senate Committee as a submission to the Bill proposing repealing of s487, the other goes to Federal MP Natasha Griggs.
If you want to keep up with the campaign, tick ADD ME TO YOU MAILING LIST.
[emailpetition id=”2″] [emailpetition id=”3″]