Friday, June 19, 2020

Labor prepared to streamline environmental approvals for major projects

A pleasant surprise.  The conservatives are stressing this too

Labor is willing to fast-track approvals for major projects including mines and infrastructure in a new sign the Morrison government could reach a deal in Parliament to streamline environmental safeguards.

Labor environment spokeswoman Terri Butler backed the case for speedier decisions on big investments, declaring "every delayed decision is a delayed job" when projects deserved to go ahead.

The stance raises the prospect of an agreement between Labor and the Coalition on changes to environmental law after Prime Minister Scott Morrison this week said he would fix the regime in the name of creating jobs.

But Ms Butler blamed the government for allowing delays to blow out since the Coalition took power at the 2013 election with a pledge to cut red tape.

"They've been in government for seven years. Every delayed decision is a delayed job, a delay in getting a project kicked off and in getting jobs created," she said.

"Where an approval can be given to a project, where the project meets the environmental tests, where the environment can be protected, then that's not something that should be delayed."

Mr Morrison has opened negotiations with state and territory leaders to reach bilateral agreements that cut some of the duplication between the levels of government, potentially leaving more power with the states.

The idea has triggered warnings from environmental groups but the government is promising not to weaken safeguards and is not proposing detailed changes until it receives a review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act next month.

Ms Butler said Labor wanted faster decisions where it was safe to do so, where environmental protections were upheld and where decisions were made well.

"What we don't want is reducing decision-making times through having shoddier, under-resourced decisions," she said.

"If you rush a decision and you stuff it up, then that exposes you to litigation."

Ms Butler said Labor would support bilateral agreements between federal and state governments to reach the Prime Minister's ambition of "single-touch" approvals but said this could not sacrifice federal responsibility.

"The starting point has got to be that for matters of national environmental significance there always has to be a role for the commonwealth," she said.

Labor calculates that 86 per cent of project decisions were made on time under the EPBC Act in 2012 but this fell to 60 per cent in 2019.

The Gillard government attempted a single regime but dropped the idea after intense criticism from environmental groups and concerns that it could not achieve uniform rules for all states and territories. The Abbott government also sought to create a "one stop shop" for decisions.

Mr Morrison has revived those ambitions in national cabinet in the name of creating jobs during the recovery from the coronavirus crisis, but he is yet to receive the EPBC review by former competition regulator Graeme Samuel.

Labor is open to the idea of bilateral agreements on approvals to achieve faster decisions but Ms Butler said this would depend on the details, which would have to be made public.

Ms Butler also said Labor was open to the idea of amending the EPBC Act itself but only if it improved environmental protections when the country faced an "extinction crisis".

"Some wags, who don't like any form of regulation, will try to oppose this as a contest between jobs and the environment but of course that's ridiculous, because so many of our jobs depend on the environment," she said.

"Yes, I will be very interested to see what Graeme Samuel says about improving the EPBC Act, but it's got to have the twin focus of jobs and protecting the environment."


Lidia Thorpe thinks Victoria should be renamed over ties with Queen Victoria

An Aboriginal activist and former MP wants the state of Victoria to change its name under a new treaty with Australia's First People.

Lidia Thorpe, who represented the Greens in the Victorian Legislative Assembly in 2017 and 2018, is calling for the change because the state is named after British Empire ruler Queen Victoria.

'Anything that's named after someone who's caused harm or murdered people, then I think we should take their name down,' she told The Herald Sun.  

Ms Thorpe, the first Aboriginal woman to be elected to the Parliament of Victoria, believes Indigenous groups and the state government should consider the idea during treaty talks. 

'It could even stay the same if that's what people want, if that's part of the negotiation outcome of a treaty where everyone gets to understand both sides,' Ms Thorpe said.

Her comments come as Black Lives Matter protests spark calls to tear down monuments linked to Australia's colonial past across the country. 

City of Melbourne councillor Nicholas Reece said monuments dedicated to Melbourne co-founder John Batman could be up for review through his hand in hunting Aborigines in Tasmania.

'There's a number of monuments and statues to John Batman in Melbourne, and I think there's a case to be made around perhaps them being given a less prominent place in our city,' he told 3AW.

A 50-year-old statue of Captain Cook in Cairns is under threat after activists petitioned for it to be torn down over the British Royal Navy captain's treatment of Aboriginal people when his ship landed in Australia.

The petition claims the statue is a 'slap in the face to all indigenous people', saying Cook's legacy was one of 'forced removal, slavery, genocide and stolen land'.

Two other statues of the explorer, both in Sydney, have already been defaced as Black Lives Matter protests shine a light on racial inequality.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton told 9News he wants the statues to stay.

'I don't think ripping pages out of history books and brushing over parts of history you don't agree with or you don't like is really something the Australian public is going to embrace,' he said. 'There are good and bad parts of our history. You learn from that.'

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has also voiced his support for the statues to stay. 'You can't rewrite history, you have to learn from it,' he told Sydney radio 2GB. 'The idea that you go back to year zero of history is in my view, just quite frankly unacceptable.'

Mr Morrison has previously said he wanted to help the public to gain a better understanding of Captain Cook's historic voyage.

'That voyage is the reason Australia is what it is today and it's important we take the opportunity to reflect on it,' Mr Morrison said.


Australia launches UK free trade agreement with a warning about protectionism

London: Trade Minister Simon Birmingham says the coronavirus-induced recession has made a new free trade deal between Australia and the United Kingdom even more important, arguing the agreement will help counter the damaging "lure" of protectionism taking hold around the globe.

Birmingham on Wednesday announced the immediate commencement of formal negotiations between Canberra and London, with the aim of striking a post-Brexit deal that will likely make it cheaper to import and export goods and easier to move between both countries for work.

The key phase had been delayed by the COVID-19 outbreak, but both sides are confident an agreement can still be struck by the end of the year.

Britain is particularly eager to secure a quick win because it would allow Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government to mount a case that leaving the European Union has allowed the country to pursue its own economic independence.

In an interview ahead of his address to the National Press Club, Birmingham said free trade should be embraced as the global economy rebuilds from the shock of the pandemic.

"The symbolism and ongoing policy benefits of nailing an ambitious agreement now is probably more important than it has been for years," he said. "We face a global environment where protectionist sentiment is causing more people to argue about the need to look inwards rather than be open, trading economies.

"I think in striking this deal and standing by our ambitions at this time, we will be providing a boost to confidence in our own countries but also an example to others to not be tempted by the lure of protectionism."

The UK’s departure from the European Union means it must seal new free trade terms with major economies - starting with the United States, Japan and Australia. The deals will help Britain's growth but struggle to cancel out the economic costs of leaving the EU.

The UK is Australia’s seventh-largest trading partner, with two-way trade valued at $30.3 billion in 2018-19. Britain is also the second-largest source of total foreign investment in Australia.

There is "a mountain yet to climb" as the Australian economy tries to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, Scott Morrison warned.

Officials from Britain and Australia have been quietly discussing a deal for two years and are familiar with each other's bargaining positions, suggesting that finalising the agreement should not take long.

"There's no reason why negotiations between Australia and the UK should be anything other than relatively straight forward but lofty in ambition," Birmingham said.

Australia is focussed heavily on the potential benefits for services industries - Australia's largest source of employment - such as banking and insurance, legal services, transport operations, technology and the health, education and tourism sectors.

"We see the real upside in terms of services liberalisation and investment flow because they're the areas where the relationship is already very strong and have the opportunity to get even stronger," Birmingham said.

Two-way services trade between the UK and Australia is worth about $14.5 billion compared to two-way goods trade at about $12.3 billion.

Negotiators might aim to relax visa rules to encourage the movement of more highly skilled workers between both countries, and the Youth Mobility Visa - which allows young Australians to spend up to two years working in the UK - could also be tweaked.

Birmingham said the deal would also help Australian agricultural producers but played down the prospect of goods trade to the UK ever returning to levels experienced before Britain joined the European Union in 1973.

The UK was Australia's third-largest two-way goods trading partner in 1973 but is now the 12th.

"For us, this is really about giving sectors like agriculture a bit more choice to deal with market conditions as they vary from year to year," Birmingham said.

"I wouldn't expect us to quickly return to the types of volumes that we saw back in the early 1970s but the wine industry provides a shining example that with the right branded product, pitched into the market the right way, there are still big opportunities in the UK relationship just as I have no doubt there are real opportunities for high value, well branded products from the UK to shine out from Australian shelves."

The UK formally left the EU on January 31 but existing trading terms remain in place during a so-called 12-month 'transition period' that expires on December 31. Both sides are scrambling to thrash out a free trade deal to come into force once the transition period lapses but those negotiations are at risk of collapse.


Now you can't say 'GRUBS': Politician who used the colourful language to describe young criminals is reprimanded in parliament

"Grub" is Australian slang for a low-life person

A politician has been chastised for using the word 'grubs' in parliament when referring to youth crime in his electorate.

Liberal Queensland MP Sam O'Connor was pulled up on his use of the term on Tuesday while speaking about the issue of crime in his seat of Bonney in the Gold Coast's western suburbs.

The parliament's deputy speaker Jess Pugh also said it was 'unparliamentary' to quote a father - whose 17-year-old son was allegedly stabbed to death outside a Surfers Paradise supermarket - as saying the justice system 'sucks'.  

'I want to raise the concerns of my community about the level of crime in our suburbs,' the 28-year-old MP began his speech at the state's legislative assembly.

He said he had run a community crime forum at a pub in his area attended by 200 locals - many of whom expressed their concern about the subject of youth crime.

'Stories of juveniles getting caught and getting a slap on the wrist means residents feel like there is no point even reporting a crime - it means these kids will often laugh off the possibility of ever being held to account for their actions,' he said.

'Two very special people came along that night too - Brett and Belinda Beasley. Brett and Belinda lost their 17-year-old son Jack, last December.'

Five teenagers stand charged with the murder of Jack Beasley - who was allegedly stabbed to death when another group of boys approached him outside an IGA supermarket on Surfers Paradise Boulevard.

'The young men charged with Jacko's murder have been granted bail and that shattered the Beasleys' faith in our justice system,' Mr O'Connor said.

'Brett summed it up saying, It's a kick in the guts, but that's the system. It absolutely sucks.'

'Member, that is unparliamentary language and I ask you to withdraw,' Ms Pugh responded.

The member for Bonney continued talking about Mr Beasley's parents setting up a foundation to fight back against knife crime - but was again warned about his use of language.

'They have set up a foundation to change the culture of knife crime and to reform a system that is putting no fear in these grubs,' he said.

'Member you have used unparliamentary language again,' the deputy speaker responded. 'Even if you are quoting, you cannot use unparliamentary language. I ask you to withdraw.'

Mr O'Connor told Daily Mail Australia he had asked the state parliament's Table Office for clarification about accepted parliamentary terms. 


 Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

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