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Senator the Hon Robert Hill
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Minister for the Environment
25 February 1998
The Howard Government is set to usher in a new era in environmental protection and industry certainty through reforms to Commonwealth environmental law.
The reform process delivers on a key Coalition election commitment.
Environment Minister Robert Hill says the changes will drag Australian environmental law out of the 1970's and into the new millennium.
Senator Hill says much of Australia's existing environmental law was passed in the 1970's and is long overdue for updating.
Senator Hill has released a consultation paper detailing the most comprehensive reforms to Commonwealth environmental law in more than twenty years.
"Australia needs a dynamic and flexible environmental law regime that is equipped to deal with current and emerging environmental issues.
"We need reforms that promote ecologically sustainable development and which embrace contemporary approaches to environmental management.
"We need to seize this opportunity because it provides a win for the environment and a win for the economy.
"Our proposed reforms will deliver better environmental outcomes, promote certainty for all stakeholders, reduce intergovernmental duplication and minimise delays."
The consultation paper foreshadows three new Commonwealth Acts - an Environment Protection Act, a Biodiversity Conservation Act and new heritage legislation. These Acts will replace several existing pieces of legislation including the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act 1974 and the Australian Heritage Commission Act 1975.
The reform process delivers on the outcomes of the COAG Review of Commonwealth/State Roles and Responsibilities for the Environment.
The most significant outcome of the COAG Review is agreement that the Commonwealth's role should be focussed on matters of national environmental significance. The Commonwealth is therefore withdrawing its involvement in matters of only local or State significance.
To achieve this, it intends to remove the existing indirect triggers for Commonwealth legislation. Commonwealth decisions such as foreign investment approvals, export approvals and funding decisions will no longer trigger Commonwealth legislation.
The matters of national environmental significance will be defined as:
The proposed new regime will incorporate a transparent legislative process enabling greater Commonwealth accreditation of State environmental processes and, in appropriate cases, State decisions.
The regime will ensure that, for matters of national environmental significance, the Commonwealth can maximise its reliance on State processes that meet relevant criteria. For the first time, the Commonwealth is committed to implementing the accreditation of State processes on more than just a case-by-case basis.
Senator Hill says the new regime will provide both environmental and economic benefits.
"Industry will now know exactly what is expected of it as the new process will require an early, binding decision by the Commonwealth on whether its legislation is triggered and sets out specific time-frames within which the assessment process must occur.
"While the new legislation will deliver greater certainty and efficiency for industry, it will also deliver more effective measures to protect the environment by providing a legislative basis for implementing ecologically sustainable development principles.
"The proposed introduction of a Biodiversity Conservation Act signals the Coalition's commitment to one of the most important issues of our time - arresting the decline in our biodiversity.
"The reforms will promote early Commonwealth involvement in strategic planning for key areas such as world heritage properties, Ramsar wetlands and for threatened species. Provisions relating to trade in endangered wildlife and native species, and the protection of migratory species will be strengthened.
"In addition, it is proposed to declare all Australian waters, including the EEZ adjacent to our Antarctic Territory, as a whale sanctuary."
Comments on the proposed reforms are sought by 23 March 1998. The consultation paper is available from Environment Australia on 1800 803 772 or on the internet at: http://www.environment.gov.au/net/legrev.html
Media contact: Matt Brown 02 6277 7640 or 0419 693 515.
February 25, 1998 (18/98)