Accredited Queensland planning laws are used to assess actions that may impact on Matters of National Environmental Significance (MNES) under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) (EPBC), such as World Heritage, Ramsar listed wetlands and nationally listed threatened species and ecological communities.
Amendments to a bilateral assessment agreement between Queensland and the Commonwealth Governments are being considered as part of the Governments’ collective policy of a ‘one stop shop’ and ‘cutting green tape’. EDO Qld, as part of the Australian Network of Environmental Defender’s Offices (ANEDO) made a submission on the proposed amendments (available here).
ANEDO does not consider that accreditation of Queensland’s environmental assessment laws are sufficient to assess matters of national environmental significance, which calls into question whether the draft amended bilateral agreement is compliant with the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth).
ANEDO’s main submissions were:
- There must be effective and efficient cooperation between Queensland and the Commonwealth at the early stages of assessment. To achieve this, the requirement for the Commonwealth and Queensland to agree on terms of reference, assessment documentation and a draft assessment report must be maintained. There must not be any limits placed on how many times Queensland may provide a draft assessment report for comment.
- Only the Queensland Environment Minister should be accredited to conduct the assessment of impacts of MNES under the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Qld), and the EIS under the State Development and Public Works Organisation Act should not be accredited. Alternatively, the Commonwealth should require Queensland to undertake major reform of its laws relating to EIS processes.
- The amended bilateral assessment agreement should include a clause that excludes the operation of the assessment bilateral to projects where Queensland is either the proponent or a government owned corporation.
- There needs to be open standing for the public to enforce false and misleading provisions of either the EPBC Act or state accredited legislation.
- Queensland should not be accredited to assess:
- Impacts on MNES in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park;
- Impacts on MNES in Commonwealth marine areas;
- Nuclear actions; or
- Water impacts from coal seam gas and large coal mining developments (known as ‘the water trigger’).
- Public access to information needs to be improved and there must be open standing for the public to review decisions or enforce laws made under environmental assessment processes.
The Commonwealth and Queensland Government are currently negotiating an approval bilateral agreement, which is expected to be released by April 2014. If this goes ahead, the Queensland Government, for the first time, will be allowed to assess and approve developments or major projects that may impact on MNES.
EDO Qld is working to promote best practice standards in assessment and decision making regarding MNES, however it appears at this stage that Queensland’s current planning laws – including under major infrastructure projects legislation – will be used to assess and approve actions that may impact on MNES.