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May 10, 2021

NSW environment policy approved despite failing federal standards

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Leading conservation organisations have revealed through a freedom of information (FOI) request that the former Abbott federal government gave the green light to a NSW biodiversity offsetting policy, despite it not meeting federal environmental standards.

The federal government is still considering whether to change the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC) 1999 to hand environmental responsibilities to state governments.

The groups describe the proposal as ‘part of the Abbott government’s attack on common-sense environmental protections’ and are calling on prime minister Turnbull to abandon it.

It will now be up to the new PM to decide whether to pursue the Abbott proposal or retain the EPBC as introduced by former Liberal prime minister John Howard in 1999.

Glen Klatovsky, director of the Places You Love Alliance said, ‘the federal government has a crucial role to play in protecting our environment for all Australians.’

‘In work we commissioned, the state and territory governments are a million miles from meeting the federal standards. The papers we have received through FOI on the NSW offsets policy further demonstrate why handing environmental decisions to the states will compromise our environment and create an eight-stop-shop debacle for business,’ Mr Klatovsky said.

Kate Smolski, CEO of the Nature Conservation Council of NSW said, ‘state governments are too often beholden to the mining and developer lobby, making a mockery of our state environmental policies. The offsetting policy is a perfect example of why strong federal oversight is vital.

‘The NSW Biodiversity Policy for Major Projects fails to meet several key standards of the Commonwealth Environmental Offsets Policy and yet under the “one-stop-shop” agreement it was given the green light.

‘As Australians, we love our natural environment, we expect the commonwealth to play a lead role in their protection, not handball responsibility to state governments,’ Ms Smolski said.

The documents released through Freedom of Information laws identify several areas of where the NSW Biodiversity Policy for Major Projects fails to meet the standards set out in the Commonwealth Environmental Offsets Policy, these are:

–       Enabling mine rehabilitation projects to be considered as a biodiversity offset even though mine sites are already required to be rehabilitated leading to double-dipping;

–       Enabling carbon offsets to be considered as a biodiversity offset;

–       Relaxing like for like provisions for certain threatened ecosystems;

–       Allowing smaller areas to be used as an offset for our most threatened species and ecological communities.

‘Our national environment law protects land, water resources, biodiversity and iconic natural features like the Great Barrier Reef and native forests that Australians love. This law also protects our unique and endangered wildlife that call these places home,’ Mr Klatovsky said.

‘We ask that prime minister Turnbull support keeping federal oversight of threatened species and special natural places so that the community can be reassured our environment is properly protected, as most Australians expect,’ he concluded.

An assessment of the adequacy of threatened species and planning laws, commissioned in 2014 found that no state or territory law currently meets all the core requirements of best practice threatened species legislation.

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