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Approvals and Related Reforms (No. 1) (Environment) Bill 2009

Extract from Hansard: Wednesday, 13 October 2010

MS A.S. CARLES (Fremantle) [3.41 pm]: I rise to contribute to the third reading debate of the Approvals and Related Reforms (No. 1) (Environment) Bill 2009…
We live in a world with a deteriorating environment, an increasing population and with more and more pressures being placed on our precious natural resources, increasing consumption and increasing waste. We are in a vicious cycle of environmental destruction and this is not the time to be weakening our environmental legislation. Turning to the legislation before us, I am very concerned about the loss of the three appeal rights with the enactment of clause 5(1) of the bill, which takes away three distinct legal rights of review and replaces them with merely an administrative ability to comment. That is quite staggering because we are not talking about removing appeal rights for community members or those the minister may regard as ratbags—although that certainly is not how I regard them, I know there is a perception that there are people who interfere and delay these processes. We are talking about removing appeal rights for any decision-making authority, responsible authority, proponent or other person who disagrees with an Environmental Protection Authority assessment in terms of the level of assessment, the scoping of the assessment and whether it is a derived proposal. This will affect proponents; that is, if they disagreed with the level of assessment, too bad.

One of the practical effects of this bill that I am very concerned about is the transference of challenge to other aspects; that is, we are talking about removing very important legal rights such as appeals on EPA reports and recommendations that occur later in the process, the use of section 43 of the EPA act to make submissions for intervention by the Minister for Environment, or legal appeals through the courts, which of course will result in greater uncertainty, longer delays and a lot more costs for all parties involved. I was directly involved in such an appeal several years ago before I was elected in which I took action in the Supreme Court on behalf of South Beach residents. Unfortunately, that action delayed the project by several years and there were a lot of costs involved for the community and for the government departments involved in that litigation—thousands and thousands of dollars worth of litigation. At the end of the day, Justice Templeman agreed that the local residents had the right to be heard in relation to matters that affect them. Accordingly, he established a legal common law right to be heard in the state of Western Australia.

By removing the legislated legal right to appeal, resident groups and affected people will be forced to rely on that South Beach case; that is, they will have to go to the Supreme Court to exercise their right to be heard by the state government. As I have said, that will dramatically increase the delays and costs for all parties concerned. I believe that if we were looking at this with common sense, we would look at introducing a third party appeal right, as all other jurisdictions in Australia have. That would bring certainty to the process, clarify everybody’s legal rights and reduce the types of delays that I am talking about.

I also want to mention the rights of local people to be heard and the kinds of information that they often have. The South Fremantle tip site is another example of a case in which I was involved. That old unregulated tip on an 18-hectare contaminated site in Fremantle had been in the too-hard basket for decades. I was amazed that over many decades the federal government dropped quarantine waste, medical waste and munitions waste et cetera, yet claimed to have lost all the quarantine dockets describing the waste dumped on the site. It turned out that the local information given by the elderly people who had lived in the area for decades and decades was a more valuable record. They had seen trucks going down their streets at night to dump industrial waste in the tip site. They could even say where on the site the waste had been dumped. They knew the types of waste that had been dumped. I am talking about information that is not available to the government or to the people sitting in St Georges Terrace. It is available right
next to the site we are talking about. It is often the local people who are privy to that information and who want a forum to share the information with the government, and they want a proper assessment of what that information may mean for them and their health. I think it an act of arrogance and, quite frankly, stupidity to say that we are not interested in hearing from those people, and that we are going to reduce their rights to be heard on EPA decisions.

As a final comment, we can look today at the state of the Swan River and the Fremantle dredging operation which show that our environmental regulators are simply failing to protect the environment. The river is now absolutely filthy with silt and visible levels are constantly being breached at key locations such as Preston Point Beach. The ocean is also threatened. The spreading plume has cut light to the seafloor threatening protected habitat areas such as the Halls Bank coral community and the seagrass. Nevertheless, under our current guidelines, absolutely nobody is accountable for this. I was warning about this possible impact at the very start of the operation when I realised that the EPA was changing its mind on the timing of the dredging, yet the port authority and the EPA absolutely refuse to act to put in place more stringent environmental conditions. I ask: who is accountable for the environmental damage to our Swan River and to our ocean ecosystems? I warn the government that today, by removing three critical levels of appeal rights and making it harder for the public to know what is going on, harder for them to see what is happening and harder for them to have a say, we are really taking the state and its protection of the environment backwards. I think it is a very sad day.

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