Since being re-elected on March 23, the NSW Liberal-National coalition has moved quickly to weaken environmental protections and local government powers by transferring them to the planning department and the premier, Gladys Berejiklian.
Under the Administration of Acts Order and associated changes made on Tuesday last week, the coalition government have transferred many key ministerial responsibilities, effectively disempowering the ministers and their departments.
Of major concern, say NSW Labor and the Greens, is the scrapping of the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH), a department tasked with the oversight of environmental protection across the state.
According to the Administration of Acts Order, the re-appointed Liberal Planning minister Rob Stokes will now exercise all the powers under the Local Government Act 1993.
The newly appointed minister for Local Government is Shelley Hancock.
Greens MP David Shoebridge said, ‘The dramatic changes disempower these ministers from having any official role in the administration of key legislation in their areas including under the Protection of the Environmental Acts, the Heritage Act 1977 and the Local Government Act 1993’.
Official legal coup
Shoebridge describes the move as an ‘official legal coup’.
‘NSW Planning has a history of abusing the environment, not protecting it, which makes these changes so dreadfully concerning. It’s not just the Planning minister who has seized control; so has the premier by taking over all responsibilities, under the Heritage Act 1977.
Environment department abolished
Deputy opposition leader in the NSW Legislative Council and shadow minister for the North Coast, Walt Secord said, ‘NSW is now the only state in Australia without a standalone environment department.’
‘The National Party and their white-shoe-brigade mates have gotten their way; they must be salivating at the prospect of logging and overdeveloping the north coast.’
Secord says a ‘gang of eight’ senior ministers have centralised power and described the decision by Premier Berejiklian to axe the Office of the Environment as an ‘act of betrayal to the state’s eight million residents that threatens the health of our rivers, oceans, animals, plants, and people’.
‘The change will mean that for the first time in many decades there will no longer be a dedicated state government agency looking after the state’s natural and built environment.
‘Responsibilities previously undertaken by the OEH will be subsumed into a larger Department of Planning and Industry’.
‘In the final days of the election campaign, premier Gladys Berejiklian claimed that the environment was a priority, but we now see the premier acting against the environment.’
For more on the key NSW government changes and the new cabinet lineup, visit https://bit.ly/2Kh4T8q.