Article by Keria Jenkins for NITV
If the bills pass the Senate, it would mean the federal government could cut down the red tape for approvals for mining projects.
Native Title organisations around the country have raised concerns about reforms to the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
The bills, which seek to enshrine single-touch environmental approvals for mining and farming, are before the Senate this week.
This would mean the Federal Government could delegate environmental approvals to states and territories, and would cut down so-called red tape for mining projects.
Jocelyn Hicks, one of the directors of the Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation in Karratha, said she’s worried about the impact streamlining environmental approvals could have, if the legislation is implemented.
“I honestly think it’s really upsetting,” she said.
“It’s bad news. It’s making it easier for the mining companies to get more quickly onto our Country and destroying something that we find out about after.”
Ms Hicks said there are seven mines operating on Guruma Country, in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, and Traditional Owners want their voices to be heard by governments and mining companies.
“Listen to the people,” she said
“…Before you make an action, come back to the people, come back to the Native Title holders and we won’t have a Juukan Gorge episode again.”
The National Native Title Council CEO Jamie Lowe echoed the concerns of Ms Hicks.
Mr Lowe told NITV News the proposed changes raise red flags for him.
“Anytime you think of someone trying to streamline the process, alarm bells can go off,” he said.
“The ‘red tape’ is there for a reason, to make people follow process, follow procedure and in this case, making sure the environment is protected, as much as you can when you’re mining.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison wrote to the Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese, asking him for support on passing the legislation.
A letter from the Prime Minister’s office, addressed to Mr Albanese outlines the two bills currently before the Parliament – the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Amendment (Streamlining Environmental Approvals) and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Standards and Assurance), would give effect to a ‘commitment to progress single-touch environmental approvals’.
“As a priority, in line with National Cabinet’s commitment, the government is progressing bilateral agreements with states and territories,” the Prime Minister wrote.
“Failure to pass legislation this week increases the risk these agreements will not be in place this year, and stands in the way of jobs and investment to support a strong economy.
“…I ask you to support the passage of these bills to ensure the new regulatory scheme provides strong environmental protections and critical certainty for investment and jobs.”
Mr Lowe said the Prime Minister’s letter illustrates the influence of the sector on national politics.
“I think it tells us how much power the mining industry has in Australia,” he said.
“They’ve got the Prime Minister on side, he’s trying to push something through with the support of the opposition.
“…I can’t remember the last time the Prime Minister pushed something through for the advantage of First Nations people of Australia, but now they’re doing it for something that would streamline mining practices.”