Fears over eco laws
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.’’