Politics

Labor considers harder environmental legal guidelines as branches name for brand new company | Australia information

The shadow environment minister, Tony Burke, has declared Labor is not afraid to strengthen national protections as 371 local branches have endorsed a motion calling on the ALP to set up an independent agency responsible for proactive environmental protection.

A grassroots campaign ahead of Labor’s national conference in July spearheaded by the activist group the Labor Environment Action Network is building support from rank-and-file members for the creation of a federal environmental protection agency, a regulator that could be the decision-maker for approvals rather than the environment minister – and a second organisation, an environment commission, to drive proactive protection of environmental assets.

Separate to the LEAN push, which is about securing a substantial overhaul and strengthening of the existing framework, the draft national platform also proposes inserting a land-clearing trigger in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act, which links the issue explicitly to the management of climate change.

It also proposes consideration of a separate national parks trigger.

The draft platform would commit Labor to carrying out “root and branch reform of federal environment laws” and to a “strong, well-resourced, science based, independent environment institutional structure with strong legislative and financial basis to proactively protect environmental assets”.

The conference debate is playing out amid a public backlash to a draft decision by the Turnbull government to approve the bulldozing of almost 2,000ha of pristine Queensland forest on Cape York Peninsula.

A draft report from the environment department recommends that the clearing at Kingvale station, authorised under the former Newman state government 2014, should be allowed to proceed with conditions. The development has revived the public debate about the impact of deforestation on the Great Barrier Reef.

The LEAN motion calls on the ALP to “safeguard our unique natural heritage and environment on behalf of future Australians by creating new environment laws and founding an independent, fully resourced public agency for the environment, within the first term of government”.

It says “new independent and well-resourced institutions will embed principles of democratic accountability and intergenerational justice” and adds “these institutions will develop and implement a national environment plan and will enforce the law”.

Labor sources suggest Burke has signalled internally he is relaxed about the new regulatory body even if it removes his power as decision maker.

Putting the decisions with an independent agency would allow occupants of the environment portfolio to conduct more frontline advocacy on behalf of the environment. The current system prevents environment ministers from undertaking public activism on various projects because they are decision makers, while other ministers, like the holders of the resources portfolio, can engage in public commentary.

Activists report there is some internal resistance on the idea of a second environmental agency with a policy focus.

Burke told Guardian Australia there was still live internal discussion about the LEAN proposals, including the regulatory agency, so he declined to express a view. “Whether changes mean the minister gets more responsibility or an independent agency sets the standards and makes sure they are adhered to is a matter Labor is still consulting on,” he said.

But he said “we aren’t afraid to strengthen the law”.

At the last national conference, in 2015, LEAN followed the same strategy of building grassroots support for a strengthening of party policy. Last time, 370 branches endorsed a motion calling on the party to adopt a 50% renewable energy goal and an emissions reduction target for 2030 based on the advice of the federal Climate Change Authority.

Tags

Leave a Reply

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This

Share this post with your friends!