Leadership or crisis management--what role should the Commonwealth play?
The biggest rewrite of environmental laws for 25 years is poised to hit the Senate and it is deeply flawed, says John Connor
FRASER ISLAND, the Franklin River
The Franklin River lies in the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park at the mid northern area of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. , the Queensland Wet Tropics. Struggles to protect these places have played a crucial role not only in the emergence of the environment movement. They have also had a profound influence on the law's approach to the powers of the Commonwealth government: the idea that the power to protect the environment would rest with the states alone has by now been thoroughly discredited. Yet a bill before the Senate threatens to undo this.
Depending on your mindset mind·set or mind-set
1. A fixed mental attitude or disposition that predetermines a person's responses to and interpretations of situations.
2. An inclination or a habit. , the expansion of national powers provides either a platform for leadership in the great challenge of ecological sustainability, or a stage for risky political tussles. The wrestle with this responsibility has produced varied responses, including ecologically sustainable development Ecologically sustainable development is the environmental component of sustainable development. It can be achieved partially through the use of the precautionary principle, namely that if there are threats of serious or irreversible environmental damage, lack of full scientific strategies, a Resource Assessment Commission, concepts of resource security and an Intergovernmental Agreement on the Environment. The latter spawned the National Environment Protection Council and accreditation mechanisms for state processes.
In a subtle shift, recent efforts have been championed under the banner of `cooperative federalism', a curious collective niceness that rarely appears between state and local governments.
The Howard government's first contribution to this was an agreement with the states about how to identify or limit the areas of possible federal intervention Federal intervention (Spanish: Intervención federal) is an attribution of the federal government of Argentina, by which it takes control of a province in certain extreme cases. Intervention is declared by the President with the assent of the National Congress. . In 1997, behind dosed doors, a list of areas of `national environmental significance' was drawn up. Though it identified some 30 areas, only seven of these could trigger Commonwealth assessment and approval, excluding obvious national issues such as greenhouse, vegetation clearance, water allocation, forests or land degradation The causes of land degradation are mainly anthropogenic and agriculture related. The major causes include:
The government determined that this secret agreement should be legislated for -- hence the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Bill 1998.
One step forward, many steps back
While ACF (Advanced Communications Function) An earlier official product line name for IBM SNA programs, such as VTAM (ACF/VTAM) and NCP (ACF/NCP).
ACF - Advanced Communications Function recognises the need to reform our outdated laws, the bill, as it stands, is one step forward and many steps back. It is true that the environment minister is to play a more central role and that there is room for greater involvement in wetland, World Heritage and threatened species issues. But the bill also provides some 17 ways by which the government can hand this power to the states or to other public or private agencies, or simply duck responsibility altogether.
The bill fails to require best practice for environmental assessment or to consistently apply the principles of ecologically sustainable development across the whole of government. Nor has it established mechanisms for public participation, monitoring, accountability or sanction.
ACF has been working with other groups who are united in their opposition to the bill in its current form. Before it can be said that the bill advances this country's environmental laws it must include:
* best practice definitions of ecologically sustainable development, ESD (1) (Electronic Software Distribution) Distributing new software and upgrades via the network rather than individual installations on each machine. See ESL. strategies for government agencies and a Commissioner for the Environment
* enhancement and expansion of triggers for Commonwealth approval and assessment
* more public participation in decision making processes
* reversing handover n. 1. The act of relinquishing property or authority etc. to another; as, the handover of occupied territory to the original posssessors; the handover of power from the military back to the civilian authorities s>. of power to states
* a Commonwealth reserve power to protect the environment
* `any person' standing to enforce public duties
* greater respect for indigenous rights
* stronger biodiversity conservation laws conservation laws, in physics, basic laws that together determine which processes can or cannot occur in nature; each law maintains that the total value of the quantity governed by that law, e.g., mass or energy, remains unchanged during physical processes. .
A rewrite of our environmental laws must be embarked on with a spirit of leadership, not crisis management. We need a robust approach that will allow Australia to rise to the challenges of ecological sustainability.
What you can do
Ring or write to your state senators, c/- Parliament House, Canberra Parliament House is the meeting place of the Parliament of Australia. It is located in Canberra, the capital of Australia. It was opened on 9 May 1988 by the Queen of Australia.  Its construction cost was over $1.1 billion. , ACT 2600, highlighting the dotpoints below. And do it today! To find out who your senate representatives are, call Parliament House on Ph: (02) 6277 7111.
John Connor is ACF's National Campaigns Director