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PM gets state consensus on streamlined environmental laws


Prime Minister Scott Morrison says all state and territory leaders are on board with streamlining environmental approvals, a move he’s trying to legislate.

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He plans to push ahead with the controversial environment law changes, stressing their importance ahead of a looming Senate battle.

Morrison wants to push ahead with controversial changes to environmental laws without firstly beefing up protections.

The government is yet to release former competition watchdog chair Graeme Samuel’s review of Australia’s environmental protection framework.

It’s a large reason why Morrison’s attempts to make changes from Samuel’s interim review face stiff opposition.

In the interim report Samuel said Australia’s natural environment was under increasing threat, with the current trajectory unsustainable.

He described the current laws as not fit for purpose.

His key advice was for an independent environmental watchdog and for states to take on approvals to reduce red tape and costs.

But he also wanted new national environmental standards to provide clear rules for the states as they take on decision-making from federal authorities.

The prime minister has pushed that step down the track, despite the government already knowing what recommendations are in the final report.

Morrison and his state and territory counterparts met in person for the first time in months on Friday, marking the final national cabinet meeting of the year.

He wants existing national standards to be codified so the states are solely responsible for approvals, taking the federal government out of the equation.

“This means you go through one process, you go through one decision maker.”

Morrison says the current process is too slow and costly.

The move has been unpopular in federal parliament but it’s supported by all state and territory leaders.

Key cross bench senators Jacqui Lambie, Rex Patrick and Stirling Griff have said they won’t support the changes, largely because the government hasn’t released the final review into Australia’s environmental protection framework.

The interim review recommended streamlining approvals but also said an independent environmental watchdog was needed to ensure standards were upheld.

That was rejected by the government, opting instead to accept a recommendation about developing national standards the states will have to follow.

“But we don’t have to solve that problem in order to solve the first problem, which is making things go faster,” Morrison said.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk expects the streamlined process to be well received.

Victorian Premier Dan Andrews is also on board.

“It is about how you make the decision, not the decision itself,” he said.

But not everyone agrees, with a Senate inquiry into the proposed laws warned against the changes by scores of environment groups.

Morrison wants the bill to pass next year but faces a Senate battle with the three crossbenchers, Labor and the Greens opposing it.

The government used its numbers in the lower house to push the bill through without it being properly debated, with some independent MPs not even able to introduce amendments or speak on the draft laws.

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