Public Comment needed on EPBC assessment agreement between Qld and Federal Governments.


 The federal government has called for public comment on the exisiting bilateral agreement between the federal government and the Qld state government  concerning the assessment of projects under the federal Environmental Protection and Biodiersity Conservatio (EPBC) act.

 The exisiting agreement expires on the 13th August, and the proposal is to simply extend the current arrangements for another 5 years.  The public can comment on this until 19th June.

Under the current arrangement, the Qld government assesses the environment impact of projects on behalf of the federal government, using an accredited assessment procedure.  This is designed to streamline and simplify the assessment procedure by having the one assessing body assess projects under  federal law at the same time the project is being assessed under state law.  This is a laudable aim, in situations where there is no conflict of interest in the assessment procedure.

However, a major concern with the existing bilateral agreement arises where the proponent is a wholly-owned State corporation, or a private/public partnershipset up for a specific project by the State Government. This effectively creates the situation where the proponent gets to write the environmentact impact statement for the project as well as assess it on behalf of the Federal government.  This concern  has been raised in many public submissions to the senate inquiry into the Traveston Crossing proposal, during the existing assessment procedure for the Traveston proposal and in the senate and independent inquiries into the operation of the EPBC Act.

Since the bilateral agreement was signed, Queensland has significantly changed it's own planning and assessment laws, particular with respect to 'fast-tracking' major state-owned projects under the Integrated Planning Act and Queenslands unique State Development and Public Works Organization Act.  Once a political decision is put into place under these particular  pieces of legislation, Queensland citizens have very little recourse to a review of these decisions or of their impacts.  

Queensland's political system is unique in having no upper house to review decisions made in the lower house, and by making extensive use of  it's powerful State Development Act.  This act is administered by the unelected government position of Coordinator-General (unique to Queensland), a position which has a history of direct political appointments.   

The federal EPBC act could provide Qld citizens with some form of independent review of the environmental and social impact of major state projects.  However, the bilateral assessment agreement as it stands effectively robs Queenslanders of this opportunity.  On contentious issues like the Traveston Crossing proposal it doesn't seem to streamline the assessment procedure anyway because the public finds a way to agitate for some form of independent review, which the federal government ends up conducting anyway.  It would be more 'streamlined'  and efficient to recognize this and plan a clearly indepenedent assessment of this projects from the start.

It is very important that the federal government receives clear, simple public comment condemning the current EPBC assessment bilateral agreement between the State and Federal Governments.  The agreement should be amended to automatically ensure that major state-owned projects are subject  to an EPBC assessment procedure which is wholly independent of the proponent.  At the very least,  the major changes that have taken place in Qld's own planning and assessment laws and procedures since the bilateral was originally signed should be grounds for a rewrite of the bilateral agreement.

Details of the agreement and the review process can be found at

http://www.environment.gov.au/epbc/assessments/bilateral/qld-draft.html