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Handing national environment powers on water back to states will breach election promise

Albanese Government plans to implement a kind of ‘one-stop shop’ that would allow national environmental approvals that impact water to be delegated to state and territory governments would breach election promises.

In the lead-up to the 2022 election, as concerns about the impact of fracking in the Northern Territory escalated, the Federal Government made a commitment to protect water decisions from delegation, hand-written on corflutes at polling booths in the marginal seat of Lingiari. 

It stated that “A Federal Labor Government will establish a Commonwealth EPA to ensure that the water trigger (extended to shale gas projects) is applied independently and without delegation”.

Georgina Woods, Head of Research and Investigations at Lock the Gate Alliance, said “Just four months ago the Federal Government extended the water trigger to shale gas fracking, and now it is seeking to set up a mechanism to hand those powers back to states and territories.

“If this goes ahead it will breach a very clear election commitment that was made in one of the most marginal seats in the country, in Lingiari in the Northern Territory.

“It would be a terrible betrayal of communities around the country if the Labor Government implements a similar type of disastrous 'one-stop shop' on environment the Morrison Government tried to implement.

“State and territory governments have proven time and again that they can’t be trusted with our water, and a federal approval role on water is needed to prevent coal and gas projects draining our groundwater and polluting our creeks and rivers.”

The provisions setting out the proposal to allow delegation of decisions to state and territory governments are contained in the December draft of the proposed ‘Nature Positive Reforms’ which sets out an “accredited approval” scheme that would cover water resources (see p 59).  

Currently, under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, decisions on water are protected from devolution to state and territory governments.


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