Nothofagus, Mt Toorongo, VIC

Changes are afoot to dramatically wind back cornerstone federal environmental protection laws. Under these changes, State Governments would be given sweeping powers to assess and approve major development projects. If implemented, these changes would be a disaster for our nation’s environment and wildlife.

In 1999, the Howard Government introduced the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act. It was meant to protect environmental areas and wildlife that were so important, and so at risk, that their existence was of national importance.

Since it was introduced, the EPBC Act has saved only a few wild places from mining and other development. Many thousands of developments have gone ahead.

Australia’s environment is now under unprecedented attack. Nine open cut mines are planned for Tasmania’s pristine Tarkine forests. The Broome community are battling the construction of a massive gas hub at James Price Point that would mark the beginning of the industrialisation of the Kimberley . The Great Barrier Reef is becoming a coal and gas highway, and could lose its World Heritage status.

The State of the Environment Report 2011 paints a grim picture. More and more endangered species are moving closer to extinction, and we are losing our precious places.

40 years backwards

This is the most serious attack on environmental protection in over 40 years. It doesn’t take much imagination to see what the environmental implications of state decision-making would look like for our environment. In Queensland, Premier Campbell Newman has opposed any delays to coal projects, saying that Queensland is “in the business of coal”.

In Western Australia, four out of five Environmental Protection Authority decision-makers on the proposed James Price Point gas hub had to disqualify themselves because of conflicts of interest; the single remaining member, unsurprisingly, approved the proposal.

In Victoria, intervention by Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke was required to stop Premier Baillieu from overturning the previous government’s ban on alpine grazing, to reintroduce cattle into national parks under the guise of a ‘grazing trial’ that was likened to ‘scientific whaling’. Meanwhile, the New South Wales Government has changed laws to permit private hunters to shoot in national parks and allow fishing in critical grey nurse shark habitat.

The major environmental victories of past decades have largely been won by the Federal Government overturning bad development decisions by state governments. Without strong federal laws, the Franklin River would be dammed, the Great Barrier Reef would have oil rigs and Fraser Island would be a sand mine.

Yet later this year, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meets to agree to the framework for handing over of approval powers to the states. Decisions about renewing Regional Forest Agreements could be made at any time.

We need decision-makers to hear our voices now. Friends of the Earth is mounting a campaign − ‘Nature: Not Negotiable’ − to prevent the gutting of federal environment laws and to strengthen the federal government’s role in protecting the natural environment.

This campaign includes mobilising around the upcoming COAG meeting, organising with local campaigns, lobbying and community campaigning.

For more information on this work or to get involved, please email

You can also find us on Twitter @naturenotneg or on Facebook at ‘Nature: Not Negotiable’.

Please support our campaign to ensure these powers are not undermined.

Info on the campaign is available here.

Our petition is available here.