The Bracks Government’s five-year review of environmental assessment law is a failure, say leading conservation groups.
The Government promised to overhaul and strengthen the Environmental Effects Act (EEA) with a review, initiated in 2000. But with Bill passing through the Legislative Assembly late yesterday, the Government has ignored the review’s advice, failing to give the legislation any muscle and instead proposing a confusing, powerless set of guidelines.
Victorian National Parks Association Director Charlie Sherwin said the review promised so much but has delivered so little. “It has taken two years, two ministers and a fluffed election promise to get to this disappointing stage. Now the Bill is being rushed through with precious little improvement compared to the original legislation.”
Environment Victoria’s Executive Director Marcus Godinho agreed: “This legislation has barely changed since 1978 and was in desperate need of a face-lift. Sadly it still remains inferior and outdated. The Government has missed the opportunity to create a fairer and more effective EA process.”
They said there was a long list of concerns, but the most outstanding were:
Mr Sherwin said the Act still gave no guarantee that a major project – such as the channel deepening or Nowingi toxic waste dump – would be subject to an Environmental Effects Statement.
“It’s the average punter – those people in towns and suburbs attempting to fight inappropriate development in their local area – who will suffer as they continue to grapple with a confusing, often inconsistent EA process.
“But developers will also find the guidelines confusing, failing to give them certainty for their projects. The process has created a toothless tiger.”
He said if the community was to have any confidence in environmental assessment law, then the Government must ensure processes were transparent and accountable with clear legislative criteria as to when an assessment would be required.
“The proposed amendments just maintain the status quo – whether an assessment is required or not continues to be at the whim of the government of the day. This is unacceptable,” said Mr Sherwin.
The EA (Amendment) Bill will now be referred to the Legislative Council, which next sits on November 15.
See www.parliament.vic.gov.au for more information.