Minister denies rushing environment bill

Daniel McCulloch
·2-min read

Australia's environment minister concedes people are wary of legislation governing development approvals that is silent on national standards.

But Sussan Ley insists those standards will come in time and is pressing ahead regardless.

Ms Ley denies the government is rushing through its environmental approval "streamlining" bill.

The legislation is designed to create a single-touch system that empowers states to approve projects under nationally consistent guidelines.

"Rushing is probably not the word I would use. We needed to get our skates on and start a really long reform process," she told ABC radio on Friday.

"But we all knew the act was deficient, we all knew the act wasn't working, so that was a first important step to change."

The Senate is considering the legislation after the government used its lower house numbers to gag debate and push the bill through.

However, crossbench senators scrutinising the bill are concerned it does not contain environmental standards.

"I totally accept that people do need to have a look at the standards," Ms Ley said.

"There is a streamlining bill before the parliament now but I anticipate further pieces of legislation and regulation to implement standards.

"That gives the architecture, it sets the framework, and of course we will introduce standards and give people a good look at them."

National cabinet met late last year and agreed to progress the standards as a matter of priority.

The Morrison government has released the final report into a review of Australia's environmental laws conducted by former competition watchdog chairman Graeme Samuel.

His report found the environment had suffered from two decades of failure by government to improve protections designed to ensure the survival of Australia's wildlife and unique places.

Mr Samuel also found developers had been strangled in red tape.

He has called for a major overhaul of environmental laws, including a new set of environmental standards and the establishment of an independent monitoring body.

His report warned of dire consequences if the recommendations were ignored or cherrypicked.

But the government has already rejected the idea of an independent regulator, instead suggesting the watchdog can sit inside the department.

Ms Ley insisted she wanted to see a strong and independent cop on the beat.

"Exactly how and where it lives within government is a matter for discussion," she said.

"I'm very comfortable we will work through to a strong model that provides the assurance that absolutely underpins our standards and our agreements with the states."

Ms Ley denied the federal government was dumping responsibility for approving projects onto the states.

"We're not handing anything over to the states. We're accrediting them against our strong national standards," she said.

"We're not handing control of environmental protection over to them. We're retaining that by way of commonwealth oversight."