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Australia puts on hold a revamp of environment laws

By Laura Brown - 28 Apr 2011 18:37:1 GMT
Australia puts on hold a revamp of environment laws

A comprehensive review calling for a shakeup of environment laws in Australia has been put on the back burner for two years, prompting criticism from its author.

The Hawke Review, led by Dr Allan Hawke, formerly secretary of the Defence Department, looked at the relationship between legislation, the environment and business. At the heart of the review was a proposed revamp of the structures in place for managing matters of national environmental significance, like conserving Australia's biodiversity; having a streamlined assessment and approval process having a greater protection for important natural and cultural places; controlling the international movement of plants and animals or products made from wildlife; finally promoting ecologically sustained development through the conservation and ecologically sustainable use of natural resources.

Its aims included reducing and simplifying the regularity burden on businesses while making sure any laws in place were the most effective and efficient ways of protecting Australia's diverse ecosystems.

The current legislation in Australia protecting the environment is the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Amongst other things it gives the government's environment minister powers to approve or reject industrial projects that might damage an endangered species or the environment.

The Review recommended the Act be repealed and replaced with a new Act, the Australian Environment Act making the process more streamlined in language and process, reducing duplication and making the approach to environment management more strategic.

In essence it calls for laws to be strengthened making it easier for business to navigate and government to enforce.

The then environment minister Peter Garrett received the completed report in October 2009.

However the current environment minister Tony Burke says he does not envisage any changes to the existing Act until 2012.

''I've made it clear now is the time to be discussing the full range of options on how to improve our national environmental law, both to better protect the environment and cut red tape for businesses,'' Mr Burke said.

''These are complex reforms and I want to take time to talk them through in detail with community, industry and business groups.''

Dr Hawke said: ''It is curious the government will take longer to respond to the review than it took a team of experts to investigate and write it.''

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