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Environment Laws threatened in the midnight shift

The Morrison Government will look to push a bill concerning Australia's natural environment through the Senate tonight. Photo: Unsplash/Aditya Joshi.

Opinion by DANIELA OSIANDER

If you visited Centennial Park or another local bit of nature during the lockdown, you can attest to one thing: we rely on nature to keep us sane!

All the worse that the Federal Government this week seems set to miss a unique chance to protect our natural treasures – while everyone’s attention is glued to COVID news.

Australia as a nation is under enormous pressure when it comes to conserving our natural environment. Our current environment laws have only overseen further extinctions. Just this year we announced another thirteen animal species lost – a steady death by a thousand cuts of our treasured wild places and beings. Australia far exceeds all other countries in mammal extinction and is one of the world’s leading deforestation hotspots.

For the first time in years, I got hopeful when experienced economist and former ACCC chair Graeme Samuel chaired an extensive Independent Review of our environmental laws. He considered over 30,000 submissions by concerned Australians and the views of more than 100 stakeholders, from conservation organisations to mining bodies.

He managed the seemingly impossible, by devising a convincing, outcomes-focused reform that could finally enable Australia to accommodate future development in an environmentally sustainable way. It would also cut down on the current inefficient piece-meal jungle of federal and state box-ticking exercises. Key recommendations from the year-long Review included binding national environmental standards and an independent regulator.

Looking to Government 

Yet tonight, hidden in an ominous ‘graveyard’ slot, the Federal Government will seek to push its controversial Standards and Assurance Bill through the senate again, bastardising both those recommendations. It introduces vastly inferior standards and a toothless commissioner. If this gets through, the Government will achieve what Samuel predicted: “To shy away from the fundamental reforms recommended by this Review is to accept the continued decline of our iconic places and the extinction of our most threatened plants, animals and ecosystems. This is unacceptable.”

Locked down and understandably focussed on COVID news, will we miss the pushing of this Bill? Do we want to, in effect, stand by quietly?

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