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The Samuel review of Australia's environment laws

July 31, 2020

There is good reason to be concerned about the future of environmental protection in Australia under the re-elected Morrison Government.

Australia is currently experiencing a jobs crisis and environmental crisis, and the Morrison Government is failing on both counts.

There was an extinction crisis underway even before the summer’s bushfires. Because of those fires, over one billion animals have died and more than 12 million hectares of land have burned, with devastating impacts on our natural environment and Australian species.

Australia needs strong laws to protect our environment and properly manage the assessment and approval of major projects.

But the Morrison Liberal National Government is fundamentally anti-science, can’t manage their own processes, and has failed to protect even our most iconic animals like the koala and platypus, let alone our less charismatic, but just as important, threatened species, which are in a disturbing decline.

As an Opposition, it is our job to hold the Morrison Government to account for its abject failures in this area. And if we want the opportunity to protect Australia’s environment, Labor must win the next election.

That means the responsibility lies with every person of good will who wants to see a change of government, to collectively work to ensure that Labor wins the next election.

Labor has engaged strongly with the Samuel Review since its inception. When the interim report was released, we said we would consider it carefully and in detail. We called on the Morrison Government to do the same. It is disappointing the government began cherry-picking the interim report’s recommendations on the same day it was publicly released.

Scott Morrison and his colleagues want to use the Samuel Review to try to pit jobs against environmental protection. We must not accept this. Labor stands for securing jobs now and creating new, well-paid, secure jobs in the future and strong environmental protection.

Governments must be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.

But the Liberals and Nationals have failed Australians on environmental protection and on promoting jobs. In the past seven years, they have failed to protect the environment, and massively blown-out delays in environmental decision-making.

The Liberals like to talk about so-called “green tape” but the real problem has been Liberal Party blue tape: delays and poor decision-making caused by Liberal and National cuts and mismanagement. Since they were elected to government the Liberals and Nationals have:

  1. Cuts the environment department by 40%, smashing its capacity to make good quality, timely decisions;
  2. Got project approval decisions wrong in some way, an astonishing 79% of the time according to the Auditor General;
  3. Presided over a 510% blow out in major project approval delays between 2014 and 2018-19;
  4. Overseen an approvals process where 95% of all Morrison Government key decisions on major projects were late in 2018-19, by on average almost 4 months. Just 5% were on time. This is during a period where the government has assessed tens of billions in projects. The year after Labor lost office, 60% of key decision approvals were made on time, and the average delay for late approvals was only 19 days;
  5. Had little or no idea whether the environmental conditions they impose in key decisions were even being met, despite these conditions being vital to keeping our communities safe and our environment protected.

Australia’s environment laws have not materially changed in the last seven years. So, it is crystal clear that this drop in environmental and job outcomes is down to Liberal National cuts, mismanagement and poor performance.

Scott Morrison is a double whammy for the environment and jobs. He claims to be a JobMaker, but in truth, he’s a JobDelayer.

We need action now, and most of all we need a Labor Government

Australia must have strong environmental protections, we must have an efficient and effective administration of those protections and we must have secure, well-paid jobs, now and in the future. But Labor can achieve this only from government.

Unlike the Greens political party and the Liberals and Nationals, Labor takes seriously our responsibility for protecting the environment and supporting Australian jobs.

We believe that Australia can’t afford another lost decade of inaction on environmental and job outcomes. We have all seen that happen before, when, shamefully, the Greens party sided with the Liberals and Nationals to vote down Australia’s best chance at lasting climate action in Labor’s Emissions Trading Scheme, in 2009.

The Morrison Government must be held to account for the mess they have made in environmental management, and we must fight, as best as we can from Opposition, for improvements in our nation’s environmental laws and policies. 

We also need to ensure that Australians who are looking for work during the first recession in three decades are not subject to unnecessary delays in jobs and investment because of the Morrison Government’s cuts and mismanagement.

Given we are not in government, and potentially two years away from an election, Labor wants to see the Morrison Government implement laws, programs and institutional arrangements that:

  • More effectively conserve biodiversity and protect the environment, to address the extinction crisis and preserve nature for future generations;
  • Reduce the unnecessary delays in decision-making, so that appropriate projects can go ahead sooner, because unnecessarily delayed decisions, like the 510% blow-out in delays under the Liberals and Nationals, cause delays to investment and jobs;
  • Ensure high-quality decision-making, so that decisions are made lawfully and well (unlike the 79% of decisions the Morrison Government currently get wrong in some way), with science at the centre, and while respecting First Nations peoples’ authority and knowledge.

Our policy

Labor will continue to develop policies for announcement prior to the next federal election, due in 2022.

Labor’s strong environmental and economic legacy cannot be built upon from Opposition. If you have not already done so, I ask that you join the fight against the Morrison Government, by engaging your family, your neighbours and your community about the urgent need for a change in government, to help Labor win the next election.

Your voice counts, and nowhere is it more important than in the public battle against the Morrison Government’s disastrous management of Australia’s environmental and jobs crises.

If you want to have your say on the review, the Samuel Review has an online platform for that purpose, which you can find here:

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