"Decisions by environment ministers spanning 15 years to either wave through
projects or impose stricter conditions to protect threatened species made no
actual difference to the amount of habitat destroyed, according to a new study.
More than half of habitat cleared to build infrastructure, mines, urban
developments and for agriculture came after a minister had decided projects
would have a “non-significant” impact on species and habitat, the study says.
Under Australia’s law, projects are referred to the government minister who
then deems it “non significant” in terms of environmental impact – meaning it
can go ahead – or a controlled action, meaning it requires further assessment.
The researchers said projects deemed “non significant” should have seen less
habitat cleared than projects classified as having a larger impact on
threatened species, but they found there was no difference in the impact.
Some species were disproportionately hit. Of the habitat lost by endangered
tiger quolls from projects in the study, 82% was from projects the government
decided were not significant enough to need further assessment. For vulnerable
grey-headed flying foxes, 72% was lost from “non-significant” projects.
“The system designed to classify development projects according to their
environmental impact is more or less worthless,” said Natalya Maitz, who led
the study at the University of Queensland.
The Albanese government is working on reforms to environment laws to be
introduced later this year after a 2021 independent review, led by former
competition watchdog chairman Graeme Samuel, found they were failing to protect
Australia’s threatened flora and fauna.
The government has promised to establish an environmental protection agency
(EPA) with powers to refuse development applications, as well as create
national environment standards that developments would need to comply with."
*** Xanni ***
Chief Scientist, Xanadu
Partner, Glass Wings
Manager, Serious Cybernetics