Nature is in crisis in Australia.
For all the environmental concern of the last 30 years the key indicators of environmental health continue to crash. Australia has the worst record of species extinction on the planet and many of our animals continue to head toward disappearance.
While there are a number of reasons for this including feral plants and animals (think cane toads and rabbits) and fire regimes that have fundamentally changed since the times of Aboriginal management, the key problem is the continued loss of habitat - we continue to develop and degrade our wild places. As climate change kicks in the situation will only get worse as animals struggle to survive in tiny pockets of remaining bushland.
LEAN is campaigning for a redesign of our whole approach to the protection of nature in Australia! But first we have to stop Tony Abbott destroying the protection our natural heritage already has....
Labor pioneered the relationship between the state and Federal governments on environmental protection. Most famously Prime Minister Bob Hawke over-rode the state of Tasmania to protect the Franklin River in 1983. After some twists and turns Liberal Environment Minister, Robert Hill formalised Federal environment laws in 1999 when the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC) was introduced.
The EPBC names nine "matters of national environment significance" that "trigger" Federal government involvement in environmental decisions. These mainly relate to Australia's international treaty obligations, such as impacts on World Heritage Areas or internationally recognised Ramsar wetlands. (Read more about the EPBC here.) If a proposal or action will impact on one of these nine issues the Federal government must make an assessment of the proposal and give an approval for the activity or impose conditions on it proceeding. The idea is that the Federal Government protects the values for which it is responsible to the international community.
LEAN defends the EPBC
When Labor was in power in 2013 business, lead by the Business Council of Australia pressured the Gillard Government to hand Federal powers to the states arguing it would reduce "green tape." This is code for making destructive activities easier. In particular business wanted to give the Federal responsibility to approve or amend projects back to the states.
LEAN gathered a number of high profile Labor stalwarts, Carmen Lawrence, Joan Kirner, Rod Welford and Bob Debus who wrote an open letter to the Labor Government calling on them to reject this idea. Read about it in The Age here.
Working with the environment groups we won this campaign, reminding the Labor Government of its own legacy of Federal protection for our most precious assets. The Federal Government retained the role of giving approval for activities likely to impact on nationally significant environmental values.
But Tony Abbott is delivering for big business
Needless to say Prime Minister Tony Abbott is delivering what Labor refused and is giving our environmental protections back to the states. This is tragic and our natural heritage will pay the price.
It's broken, let's start again
This betrayal of our natural heritage is just another compelling reason for LEAN to join in campaigning our hearts out against the Abbott Government.
But LEAN also believes the EPBC is broken. Even without this capitulation to the states, the EPBC is not delivering the protection nature deserves. LEAN is calling for Labor to rethink our approach to nature protection and redesign the legislative and regulatory framework to ensure nature has a fair chance in this fair land of ours.