World environment daze on national green laws
International World Environment Day this year (June 5) should have been a reason to sing happy birthday to a range of new and innovative environmental policies.
But when it comes to the political agenda surrounding 'Green Tape' in Australia it seems the environment 'has no say in it, no say in it at all'.
Time and time again, federal governments have stepped in to save our national icons from short-sighted state ambitions.
On world environment day this year the VNPA joined other national and state-based environment groups to attack plans to hand back federal environmental approvals to state governments through a joint communique.
We know from long experience that state governments do not assess development proposals with the national interest in mind. The need for national intervention on cattle grazing in the Alpine National Park is a clear example of this.
In a surprise move earlier this year state and federal governments agreed at the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) to fast-track fundamental changes that will allow assessment and approvals under national environmental laws to be handed back to state governments.
But the VNPA believes that what is actually needed is a strengthening of our national environmental laws, and the arrangements between the states and the Commonwealth, on these fundamental governance issues.
Time and time again, states and territories have shown they can't be trusted to fulfill international obligations or take the national interest on environmental protection into account. The Baillieu Government in Victoria is a case in point.
Within a couple of months of winning office, the Baillieu Government quietly, if not secretly, introduced 400 cattle into the Alpine National Park under the guise of a scientific grazing trial. This trial, popularly seen as Victoria's version of Japan's 'scientific' whaling, has proven to be the first instalment in a list of actions that are chipping away at core environmental protection controls in Victoria.
In the past 12 months there have been moves by the Baillieu Government to remove the protection of threatened species from logging by changing the key regulatory instrument, the Code of Practice for Timber Production, to allow logging areas to be exempted from state threatened species laws.
The patchy role of state governments on the environment is both a political and long-term institutional problem. A recent report by the Environment Defenders Office in Victoria on the key threatened species legislation the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act illustrates this point.
The report finds that Action Statements, the key tool used to outline what needs to be done to ensure species survive, have still not been prepared for 374 of the 675 species, communities and processes listed under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act, despite the clear legal obligation to do so. In the past year, only one draft statement has been released.
Handing over federal environmental regulation to the states is a dangerous move, and a backward step that could see our natural areas and unique native plants and animals suffer and decline, and one that could deny our children and grandchildren the chance of seeing and enjoying them as we have done.
When all's said and done, our natural heritage belongs to all Australians - and to the world.
For 60 years the VNPA has fought to protect Victoria's natural heritage. If you're as passionate about our wonderful special places, then join us. By donating you help keep us going, and by getting involved with our campaigns and actions you add your voice to our chorus.
Stay in touch
Keep up with conservation issues across Victoria, follow us on Facebook.