Fears over eco laws

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - NEWS -

PRO­POSED Queens­land plan­ning laws will se­ri­ously wa­ter down en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tions, and al­low Depart­ment of State Devel­op­ment of­fi­cials to over­rule en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns, the Wilder­ness Society said as a par­lia­men­tary in­quiry into the draft leg­is­la­tion met on Wed­nes­day.

The Queens­land Govern­ment tabled the Re­gional Plan­ning In­ter­ests Bill in Par­lia­ment shortly be­fore Christ­mas, with pub­lic sub­mis­sions clos­ing just af­ter the hol­i­day pe­riod. De­spite mak­ing a de­tailed sub­mis­sion out­lin­ing se­ri­ous con­cerns, the Wilder­ness Society and other con­ser­va­tion groups were not in­vited to front the in­quiry.

The Bill cre­ates sweep­ing pow­ers for of­fi­cials, and will al­low the head of the Depart­ment of State Devel­op­ment to base de­ci­sions to ap­prove de­vel­op­ments on cri­te­ria that have not yet been made avail­able, and also to take ‘‘ any other fac­tors into ac­count’’.

Un­like the Wild Rivers laws, the Re­gional Plan­ning In­ter­ests leg­is­la­tion will sup­port min­ing in and around sen­si­tive rivers flood­plains, re­gard­less of their en­v­i­ron- men­tal val­ues. Eco­log­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant land­scapes will sim­i­larly be able to be mined, with no per­ma­nent pro­hi­bi­tions al­lowed to be made.

‘‘ The Re­gional Plan­ning In­ter­ests Bill is a recipe for in­con­sis­tency, ar­bi­trary pro­cesses, and politi­cised de­ci­sions,’’ said Wilder­ness Society Queens­land cam­paign man­ager Dr Tim Seelig.

‘‘ The sub­stan­tial dis­cre­tion that can be ap­plied in de­ci­sion- mak­ing, and the ab­sence of crit­i­cal de­tails of how the laws will work, con­tained in Reg­u­la­tions not re­leased for scru­tiny, threaten proper en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion in this state.

‘‘The Bill favours min­ing over full and proper pro­tec­tion of im­por­tant en­vi­ron­men­tal area, such as the Wild Rivers of Cape York, the World Her­itage- stan­dard nat­u­ral and cul­tural val­ues of the Cape re­gion, and the iconic rivers of West­ern Queens­land. Re­gional Plans, such as the one pro­posed for Cape York, will be driven by the in­tent of this plan­ning leg­is­la­tion.

‘‘If passed into law as it is, this Bill will be used to fa­cil­i­tate min­ing and other de­struc­tive ac­tiv­i­ties in sen­si­tive en­vi­ron­men­tal ar­eas, and it of­fers no means to guar­an­tee these places will be free from min­ing threats into the fu­ture.

‘‘Min­ing pro­pos­als will fun­da­men­tally get the green­light at the whim of of­fi­cials in the Depart­ment of State Devel­op­ment, with their Min­is­ter, Jeff Seeney, breath­ing down their neck.

‘‘The devel­op­ment of this leg­is­la­tion has been far­ci­cal, with rushed pro­cesses, crude pro­ce­dures to guide de­ci­sions, and cru­cial in­for­ma­tion held back from pub­lic ex­am­i­na­tion. Al­most all of the sub­mis­sions re­ceived, in­clud­ing those from plan­ning groups, min­ing and farm­ing lob­bies, and con­ser­va­tion­ists, have crit­i­cised the vague­ness and com­plex­ity of as­pects of the Bill.

‘‘The Par­lia­men­tary Com­mit­tee ex­am­in­ing the Bill should not al­low its In­quiry to go any fur­ther with­out en­sur­ing the pub­lic gets to see the pro­posed Reg­u­la­tions. The Com­mit­tee has a duty to refuse to rub­ber- stamp this dread­ful leg­is­la­tion, and should in­stead or­der Mr Seeney and his Depart­ment back to the draw­ing board.’’

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