The Arid Lands Environment Centre (ALEC) is celebrating a new era of environmental protection with the recent passing of the hard-won Northern Territory Environment Protection Act. It was passed by parliament on September 19th and is expected to commence in March/April next year.
The Act will create a new framework for environmental assessment and approval to deliver transparent, accountable and independent environmental decision making. It represents a win for the public interest over competing private and industry interests. Opponents of the Act were misguidedly fighting against transparency and the protection of fundamental environmental values such as clean air, land and water.
The most important part of the Act is the introduction of an environmental approval. All projects or actions that will have a significant impact on the environment will need to have an approval by the Minister for Environment and Natural Resources after undergoing rigorous environmental assessment. Projects will then be held to account for their actions, with approvals triggering a suite of tools for monitoring, compliance and enforcement of environmental conditions.
An approval is standard best-practice law in other Australian jurisdictions and will reduce the potential for politically-motivated decision making. It will also support community engagement and ensure that decisions are guided by the best available information and science.
Before it was passed as an Act, the Environment Protection Bill was reviewed by a social policy scrutiny committee comprised of members of Government, CLP and independents. The Committee’s report recommended it be passed with several amendments: include climate change as a purpose of environmental assessment, tighten enforcement provisions and clarify the operation of the Act.
Over the months leading up to the passing of the Bill, ALEC worked with environmental groups and other stakeholders to strengthen the laws and advocate for progressive, modern and effective environmental protections. ALEC did not achieve everything it hoped for, but the Act is still a huge success.
ALEC would like to acknowledge the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ commitment this reform and delivering a strong Act. The Environment Minister stayed the course despite sections of the mining industry opposing the Act and the increased scrutiny it brings. The Minister has asked parliament to reflect on why issues of transparency might be of concern to some members of industry.
Contrary to misinformation from industry, the Act will increase economic confidence by introducing clear timelines and standards, which will improve certainty about the assessment process. It will encourage development that is appropriate and ecologically sustainable.
There is more to be done, including strengthening regulations to manage the impacts of the mining industry and reforming the licensing and pollution framework. ALEC will continue engaging with government and stakeholders to understand how to best protect communities and our environments from the impacts of industry and development.
The passing of the Bill is a victory for communities in the Northern Territory, which have called for stronger protections for the places and lifestyles they love. Arid Lands Environment Centre is heartened by this Act and is confident that with continued work, it will deliver a modern and strong system of environmental protection for the NT.
Alex Read: Policy Officer
Interested in effecting change through the law? Get in touch with Alex by emailing: [email protected]