Proposed changes to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act should be opposed in both the lower and upper Houses of Parliament.
The government is arguing that the legal challenge mounted to the Carmichael mine in Queensland necessitates this change in legislation. They have made a number of outrageous claims in relation to this and these are debunked in the following article
In essence, the proposed changes seek to limit the number of people who can protest against large developments on environmental grounds to those who are directly affected. The definition of “directly affected” will be central to the extent to which environmental groups can take action against undesirable developments like coal mines.
If “directly affected” is translated to “living next-door”, then the rights of protest for a wide range of groups will be severely limited.
As our understanding of the interconnectedness of ecological systems increases, we understand that the direct effects of polluting activities may pale into insignificance against the indirect effects. Our understanding of the impact of carbon emissions on global warming is now technically complete, although not universally accepted within Australia.
Our understanding of the impact of fracking on water tables is also well advanced. A wide range of community groups will rightly be concerned about the degradation of the quality of water tables, particularly those who use the water. Presumably, they would come under the category of “directly affected”. However, the number of people who are indirectly affected is considerable: people whose livelihood is affected by the failure of crops reliant on the contaminated water, people affected by the crop failure, people whose access to the water is affected by shifting demand is result of the failure of water table supply.
Under the proposed legislation these groups would have no right of protest or appeal against development where at present they do.
Making the right of protest and appeal available to as many groups as possible allows the widest possible range of expertise to be brought to bear on the possible environmental consequences of industrial development.
There are many organisations, such as Greenpeace, the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Wilderness Society which are not directly affected by any specific industrial development. Yet to lessen the right of such groups to appeal and protest would greatly limit the protection the public is currently afforded by the vigilance of these organisations.
There are encouraging signs that this proposed legislation will not be supported by the cross-bench of the Senate. And it is reassuring to know that the Abbott government has demonstrated absolutely no ability in being able to negotiate with its political opponents.