Environmental Reform in 2019

2019 is shaping up to be monumental year for environmental issues. We are regularly hearing about the need to take decisive action to address climate change, biodiversity loss, land degradation and water security but are grappling with the institutional, political and individual responses to this awareness. 

Confidence in our democratic institutions is waning as our political leaders continue to govern in the interests of a select few rather than for the public interest and interests of nature. Instead we need to strengthen accountability, provide for full transparency and elevate environmental issues so that they are core to economic decision making. 

There is ongoing reform across all key policy areas in the Northern Territory; including water, climate change, energy and environmental protection. 

This year the Northern Territory will see the introduction of an updated framework for environmental regulation through the Environment Protection Act. This Act will shift the entire system of environmental law to bring it in line with other jurisdictions. A draft of the Bill has been released: it’s a comprehensive and strong bill. While there are sections that could go much further, all in all it’s a serious improvement. ALEC is working to maintain the pressure on government to deliver on this key election commitment. See our submission at https://www.alec.org.au/alec_submissions

The key concern following the Bill becomes political in ensuring that the government holds firm and commits to resourcing the Act. There are a whole range of new powers and tools to enforce compliance against strong standards of environmental protection. Compliance and monitoring will be crucial to deliver these improved standards. 

The industry lobbyists and commercial interests are already rearing their heads in opposition to these reforms as their influence is challenged. These industries have been operating under the weakest environmental protection laws in Australia. 

ALEC is working as part of a broad coalition to advocate for a shift in the narratives around environmental protection. Ultimately the condition of development in the NT should be environmental protection and rehabilitation following closure. 

While ALEC will also continues to work with a broad coalition of groups to ensure fracking is banned in the NT, there is also a need to hold the government to account for their commitments to implement a strong regulatory framework. 

Policy advocacy in this space means providing another layer of accountability to monitor the progression of legislative amendments so that they comply with the intent and form of all recommendations from the Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing. There is a need to ensure strong systems are in place to prevent any environmental harm from potential exploration activities. 

Later in the year we are expecting to see more reforms around waste management, mining law and pollution control. This shift in environmental law is occurring alongside a national conversation about the next generation of environmental laws. A new paradigm in environmental law is drastically needed to elevate environmental issues alongside economic values. These changes will need to be in place to monitor and enforce strong standards of environmental protection against five potential new mines for Central Australia. 

Economic imperatives for growth continue to push for the expansion of extractive industries. A condition of operation for these projects must be free prior informed consent and a legal commitment to comply with all rehabilitation requirements. Monitoring these mining developments will continue to be part of the core work of ALEC. 

Following on from an entire review of ground water extraction licences granted under the Giles Government, the NT Government is progressing water reform. This will begin with a scoping paper to outline the top issues for water governance and a call to the public to contribute to this list. Aided by the recent operationalising of the Independent Commission Against Corruption, it appears as if there is a serious shift towards accountable and sustainable water use. Water in arid NT will remain a critical issue as the shocks from the Murray Darling catastrophe continue to reverberate. 

The Northern Territory does not have to follow that same path, where mining aquifer water is seen as a reasonable cost for economic growth. The groundwater resources are largely non-renewable in the arid zone, but most are intact. 

Our advocacy will continue to ensure that aquifers are not mined where possible and the groundwater dependent ecosystems are protected from extraction. This means elevating demand management as a key policy priority for management of aquifers in the Alice Springs Water Control District.

Our policy advocacy will continue through oranising meetings with Ministers and senior bureaucrats from various NT Government Departments, engaging the general public on reform and contributing to formal consultation processes.  

Policy reform for the first quarter includes:

  • Amendments to the Petroleum Act and Water Act for fracking reform.
  • Scoping paper for Water reform.
  • Guidelines for engaging with stakeholders during environmental assessment.
  • Beginning of electricity market reform.

5 things you can do to help protect nature:

1. Commit to writing at least one submission on policy consultation.

2. Lobby the federal Environment Minister for more funding for threatened species and biodiversity conservation. 

3. Speak to a friend who is on the fence about fracking. 

4. Speak to people in your workplace about taking on environmental issues.

5. Engage in a political party and advocate for environmental issues.

Stay Connected

Protecting the outback and catalysing the essential change needed to tackle climate change and create a sustainable future is a big task and we need your support to do it. Sign up here for more information on how you can support the work of the Arid Lands Environment Centre