Fight to keep federal fingers on water trigger
One of the key architects of Australian water law says clear environmental efforts are being muddied.
The Australian Senate will this week debate changes to the Environmental Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act ) “water trigger” legislation, but former Federal MP Tony Windsor has warned that the proposed changes could create unrest.
The Coalition Government has put forth a 'one stop shop' plan, which would remove the ‘water trigger’; a stipulation that requires the Commonwealth to separately assess all major resource projects with a potential impact on water resources.
But Windsor says handing environmental approvals back to states would not improve the process in the way the LNP hopes.
“The so-called red tape-reducing one-stop-shop may well become a ‘community roadblock’ if the water trigger is altered,” Mr Windsor told the ABC.
“The loss of faith by the community in relation to the previous state-based decision-making processes really demands that a national approach is preferable.
“This distrust has been exacerbated by recent ICAC findings in relation to both Labor and Liberal parties in NSW and detrimental water impacts in Queensland.
“There is now a real need for independent scrutiny at a federal level,” he said.
Mr Windsor said that as environmental systems and issues to not stop at state borders, it makes sense to have some over-arching influence.
“There is a need for ‘bioregional assessments’ of catchments that are potentially sensitive to groundwater impacts prior to the granting of approval for extractive activities. This was a recommendation of the Australian Minerals Council as far back as 2008,” he said.
“The Federal Independent Scientific Committee is ideally placed to provide trustworthy advice on such assessments.
“Meanwhile, the chronic under-resourcing of the state departments to carry out this work under federal accreditation will lead to conflict issues and legal challenge.
“The removal of the water trigger in the Senate would be a retrograde step.”