Law and policy developments
In the legislature
Increased penalties for hunting turtles and dugong
The Environmental Legislation Amendment Bill 2014 has been passed by the Senate, following an inquiry report last year recommending that the legislation be adopted.
The legislation significantly increases the penalties associated with killing turtles and dugongs. Amendments sought by the Australian Greens to also increase penalties for killing other threatened species were defeated.
The legislation originally sought to retrospectively validate decisions made under the EPBC Act without reference to approved conservation advice (in light of an earlier Federal Court decision overturning approval for a mine in the Tarkine on the basis that regard was not had to the conservation advice for the Tasmanian devil). Those sections of the legislation are not included in the final amendment.
Senator Nick Xenophon used the opportunity to propose a further amendment to the EPBC Act to expand the scope of the “water trigger” to include all unconventional gas fracking activities. The amendment was not supported by Liberal or Labor Senators, although Labor called for a review of the National Partnership Agreement on CSG and Large Coal Mining Development to consider whether the scope of the trigger should be expanded to other forms of unconventional gas, including shale and tight gas.
Australian Capital Territory
Planning and Development (Capital Metro) Legislation Amendment Act 2015
On 25 February 2015, the Legislative Assembly passed the Planning and Development (Capital Metro) Legislation Amendment Act 2015. The Act is expected to commence in April.
The legislation will facilitate the proposed light rail track between Civic and Gungahlin being built on schedule. To enable swift completion of the project, the legislation curtails third party appeal rights. In particular, the Act:
removes third party merits review rights for light rail and associated infrastructure
amends the Administrative Decision (Judicial Review) Act 1989 (ACT) so that it cannot apply to decisions related to light rails.
reduces the time limits for bringing a common law appeal to the ACT Supreme Court.
Read the bill’s explanatory statement here.
New cat containment areas announced
The ACT Government has the power to declare certain suburbs in the ACT as ‘cat containment areas’, where the Government is satisfied that cats pose a serious threat to native flora or fauna. Fines of up to $1500 apply to residents of cat containment areas who do not keep their cats indoors.
The Government has recently announced two of Gungahlin’s newest suburbs will become cat containment areas, Moncrieff (from 18 March 2015) and Jacka (from 1 January 2017). These areas are additional to existing cat containment areas in Bonner, Crace, Coombs, Denman Prospect, Forde, Lawson, Molonglo, Wright and The Fair at Watson.
Residents seeking further information about restrictions in their suburb should contact the Territory and Municipal Services in the ACT.
Proposed amendments to defamation laws dropped
The Tasmanian government has abandoned its controversial proposal to amend the Defamation Act 2005 (Tas) to enablecompanies with more than 10 employees to sue for defamation.
The government’s decision came after it failed to get support to amend the uniform defamation laws from other States and Territories, the Law Society, civil liberties groups, environment groups and other community organisations. The proposed changes were also opposed by large timber company, Ta Ann, one of the companies expected to have been supportive of the changes given targeted market campaigns against it by environmental groups in the recent past.
For an explanation on why the government changed its plans, click here.
In the courts
$58,000 fine for polluting creek
Construction company Watsiana Pty Ltd has been fined $58,723 for twice polluting a local creek in 2011. The pollution arose when the company discharged sediment laden water into the creed located near its site.
Magistrate Goldberg noted that, while the company had no record of prior offences, it was important that the penalty demonstrate to any corporation it should not undertake works with the potential to cause pollution.
For more information, click here.
Policy developments and other news
National Clean Air Agreement by 1 July 2016
At the Meeting of Environment Ministers on 26 February 2015, Federal and state governments agreed to work together to improve air quality standards and help tackle the effects of climate change. Environment ministers released an agreed outcomes statement outlining their commitment to a national clean air agreement.
A climate change adaption working group has been established, to be chaired by Lisa Neville, Victoria’s Environment Minister.
To read the discussion paper, click here.
“Green tape” inquiry report released
On 23 February 2015, the House of Representatives released its report into ‘streamlining and green tape.’ The Liberal / National majority report expresses support for the government’s one-stop shop policy, while the dissenting report from the Labor members notes the concerns expressed by various stakeholders that the policy would weaken environmental protections, create conflicts of interest and reduce consistency across Australia.
The report makes a number of additional recommendations regarding opportunities to reduce duplication, including coordinated threatened species lists and comprehensive public-access databases, as well as investigating the possibility of an accreditation scheme for practitioners preparing environmental impact assessments to secure higher reporting standards.
State of Conservation Report on World Heritage properties
The Australian government has delivered its State of Conservation reports regarding the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area and the Great Barrier Reef to the World Heritage Committee. The Reports outline the government’s response to previous decisions of the World Heritage Committee and updates on management activities.
The Report on the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area does not include the draft Statement of Outstanding Universal Value (SOUV), currently being finalised by the government. The draft SOUV is expected to be submitted for consideration at the next Committee meeting in June 2015.
Supertrawler proponent gets approval to fish with smaller vessel
Seafish Tasmania, proponent of the controversial supertrawler, FV Abel Tasman, has received preliminary approval to fish its approved quota in the Small Pelagic Fishery using a 95m vessel, the Geelong Star. A vessel management plan will need to be approved before any fishing can occur. The approval follows an earlier commitment from the Australian Government to ban the use of ‘supertrawlers’ greater than 130m in length.
Emissions Reduction Fund auctions
The first auction for the Emissions Reduction Fund, which aims to provide $2.55 billion to projects designed to abate carbon emissions, will take place on 15 and 16 April 2015.
As part of the auction, the Clean Energy Regulator will purchase carbon credit units through a Carbon Abatement Contract at a price determined by reverse auction. No guidance has been provided regarding benchmark prices for bids, and bidders are not advised what bids are made by other participants.
New South Wales
Biodiversity review report released
The Independent Biodiversity Legislation Review Panel has released its final report to the Minister for the Environment. The report details recommendations regarding amendments to the legislative and policy framework for biodiversity conservation and native vegetation management in New South Wales.
Conditional approval for mine extensions
The NSW Planning Assessment Commission has given conditional approval for large extensions of two coal mines north-west of Sydney, adding a potential 31 million tonnes of extra coal output a year. The two mines concerned are the Moolarben Coal mine, 80% owned by YanCoal, and Rio Tinto’s Bengalla mine.
Read more here and here.
Fracking review recommends against moratorium
On 26 February 2015, the NT government tabled a report regarding hydraulic fracturing, commissioned by the government and authored by Dr Allan Hawke AC. The report had been presented to the government in November 2014, but not released.
The report concluded there was “no justification whatsoever for the imposition of a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in the Northern Territory”. However, the report also found that a robust regulatory regime needed to be created to manage the environmental risks and recommended restructuring the Environmental Assessment Act to better address assessment requirements.
To read the report, click here.
Queensland’s first Minister for the Great Barrier Reef
On 14 February, Annastacia Palaszczuk MP was sworn in as Premier of Queensland following Labor’s state election win. The new cabinet includes Steven Miles MP, who will be Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection as well as the first Minister for the Great Barrier Reef.
Read more here.
SA urges move on climate change
The South Australian Government will take ‘unilateral action on climate change in renewable energy’ and has begun talks with New South Wales and Victoria urging them to follow suit. According to the State’s climate change Minister the Hon Ian Hunter the stance is in response to the Federal Government’s refusal to ‘take meaningful action’ in relation to climate change. The Minister also noted South Australia’s preference for a national approach to emissions trading that would ensure consistency across the country.
Royal Commission into Nuclear Industry
South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill has announced a Royal Commission into the potential of a nuclear industry in the State. The purpose of the Royal Commission is to give South Australians ‘the opportunity to explore the practical, financial and ethical issues raised by a deeper involvement in the nuclear industries’.
For more information, click here.
Fracking ban extended to 2020
The Tasmanian Government has released its Fracking Policy, which outlines an extension of current moratorium on hydraulic fracturing for gas or petroleum until March 2020. The policy makes clear that exploration not involving fracking may continue during that period.
There are no plans to amend the legislation to give effect to the ban, relying instead on the works approval process.
The government will undertake a full review of fracking practices prior to 2020, having regard to regulatory frameworks and environmental and health impacts experienced in other states.
Read the policy here, and the final report of the Fracking review here.
Tourism developments in Tasmania’s national parks and reserves
The State government has released the first round of tourism projects approved to proceed to a more detailed assessment under the “Expressions of Interest” (EOI) process. The EOI process is a non-statutory process intended to facilitate the development of “sensitive eco-tourism developments” in Tasmania’s national parks and reserves. The process is being coordinated by the office of the recently appointed Coordinator-General.
Details of further proposals are expected to be released before 13 March 2015. The EOI process is being run at the same time as a significantly revised draft management plan for the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area is out for public comment, inviting criticism that the EOI process should be deferred until the terms of any new management plan are known.
Details of the tourism proposals accepted to date, and the EOI assessment process, are available on the Coordinator-General’s site.
CSG Exploration and Fracking Ban to remain until Inquiry finalised
The Victorian State Government’s moratorium on coal seam gas exploration and fracking will remain in place, pending the findings of a parliamentary inquiry examining the impact of the methods used.
Reviewing the Contaminated Sites Act 2003
The statutory review of the Contaminated Sites Act 2003 has been completed, with the Minister for Environment tabling a report on the review in Parliament on 24 February 2015. As part of its response to the review, the Department of Environment Regulation has revised and updated its contaminated sites guidelines and fact sheets.
As well as improvements to processes, the guidelines incorporate updates in response to the variation of the National Environment Protection (Assessment of Site Contamination)
Environmental Assessment Fees – Mining Act 1978
The Department of Mines and Petroleum will introduce new assessment fees for program of work and mining proposal applications under the Mining Act 1978 (WA). The fees, which take effect on 1 July 2015, will be set at $590 for the program of work applications and $6,590 for mining proposal applications. The fees will be waived entirely for exploration or prospecting work that disturbs less than 0.25 hectares of land (other than reserve land).
A fact sheet on the new fees is available here.
185 WA mine approval condition breaches, but zero prosecutions
The Department of Mines and Petroleum has not prosecuted any companies since the 2008-09 financial year for breaches of approval conditions despite 185 mine approval condition breaches being recorded in that time period.
Environment Minister, the Hon. Albert Jacob, defended the failure to prosecute by noting that none of the 185 non-compliances had a significant impact on the environment, with many being administrative breaches.
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