Approvals and Related Reforms (No. 1) (Environment) Bill 2009
Date:Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Hon Giz Watson; Hon Max Trenorden; Hon Lynn MacLaren; Hon Alison Xamon; Hon Donna Faragher; Deputy President
Resumed from an earlier stage of the sitting.
HON ALISON XAMON (East Metropolitan) [5.20 pm]: I also wish to express my concerns about the Approvals and Related Reforms (No. 1) (Environment) Bill 2009. I will not repeat all the things that have been extensively covered by my colleague Hon Giz Watson. I feel that she has very thoroughly outlined the concerns of the Greens (WA) about this bill. I certainly share those concerns. I also share the concerns voiced by my colleague Hon Lynn MacLaren. When this Liberal government came into power, one of the things that it made very clear was that it had a key commitment to be more open and accountable as a government. I think this bill fails to meet that commitment. I am very concerned about that. This bill is retrograde in the way that it deals with environmental approvals. It is taking away our appeal rights. I do not think that is governing in good faith. It will have a negative impact on environmental accountability and public participation within the planning and approvals system. The proposed changes will remove the right for members of the public to appeal against the levels of assessment for proposals, which are likely to have a significant effect on the environment in cases in which there is concern that the Environmental Protection Authority has assessed the level of assessment required as being too low. I have personally taken advantage of these provisions in the past and have been successful in having EPA assessments upgraded as a result. Personally, I am concerned that these may be removed, because it has been a very important element in the act. I think this has been an appropriate appeal right and it really needs to be maintained.
I am also concerned about the changes to derived proposals; namely, if proposals are declared as derived, they will not be able to be appealed because the declaration of derived is, in effect, determining that the impacts of a proposal have already been adequately assessed. I also know from speaking to many people that numerous other concerns have been expressed by the community and by environmental groups about how people will be notified about assessment and about time frames for appeal. I am concerned that the proposed amendments simply do not recognise the sorts of limitations that environmental and community groups and individuals already have to work within when they feel that they need to appeal.
The Environmental Protection Act has long been considered to be best practice nationally. I have no problem with the idea of undertaking a review of the act if necessary. I do have a problem if it means that the review will simply result in weakening those provisions further rather than looking at ways to genuinely improve and upgrade those processes. As I said, community and environmental groups already have an uphill battle if they are concerned about environmental approvals. They are desperately under-resourced, or often they have no resourcing whatsoever. It has been frustrating for me over the years both as an activist in this area and now as a parliamentarian that when I am giving advice to these community groups that are saying that they want to appeal, they want to know what their rights are and they want to know what they can do as they are very concerned about what is going on. The best that I can do is refer them to the Environmental Defender’s Office. For those members who do not know anything about the EDO, it is a community legal centre that provides advice to community groups on issues of environmental law. It is grossly under-resourced. It has been underresourced for years. I used to be on the board, so I know firsthand the sorts of problems that it has been dealing with. Importantly, it is never in the position of being able to run actual cases. All it can primarily do is give advice to community and environmental groups.
We are already talking about people who are battling—in this instance, often developers who have a lot of money, pretty deep pockets and the will and the tenacity to make things happen even if that is contrary to what is best for the environment and what is best for local communities. In my opinion, the last thing that we should be doing is looking at weakening the act to the extent that those rights will subsequently be taken away even further. I have considerable concern about that. I also have ongoing concerns about funding for the Environmental Protection Authority. I would argue that the funding for the EPA has been inadequate for years. I am also aware that it will need to assess a huge number of applications as a result of all the development that is occurring, particularly up north—we are also now looking at mines being developed all over the state. That will add even more pressure to the EPA at a time when we are also removing community rights.
We are absolutely going in the wrong direction. It seems to me that the act as it has existed for all this time achieved a happy medium, the correct medium. I say that because for years and years I heard people talk about how they wished that the act could be strengthened to improve the capacity for people to appeal even further. Clearly, we are seeing the opposite side of the coin whereby developers are concerned that they felt it was too stringent. It seems to me that we must have been right and it was working. It has been working. It has achieved that happy medium. It is incredibly disappointing that we are messing with something that has worked for so long and that has been considered to be best practice nationally for decades. I will certainly be opposing this bill. I urge the government to reconsider its whole approach.
Hon DONNA FARAGHER: Members do not have confidence in the independent chairman of the Environmental Protection Authority; is that what members are saying?
I think I have covered most of the matters that have been raised by members in the second reading debate. We believe that the amendments being put forward in this bill are sensible, and they are important improvements to the system. I commend the bill to the house.
Question put and a division taken with the following result — Ayes (18) Noes (12)
Question thus passed.
Bill read a second time.
Sitting suspended from 6.05 to 7.30 pm
As to Committee Stage
On motion by Hon Donna Faragher (Minister for Environment), resolved —
That the committee stage be taken at a later stage of this day’s sitting.