News ID: 233599
Published: 0633 GMT October 31, 2018

Industry concerns prompt changes to promised NT environmental protection reforms

Industry concerns prompt changes to promised NT environmental protection reforms
MITCHELL WOOLNOUGH/ABC NEWS

The Northern Territory government in Australia has backed away from parts of its promised reforms to environmental protection laws halfway through consultations on them, citing industry concerns about potential legal challenges by green groups.

A provision that would have allowed appeals around the merits of a minister's decision to grant environmental approval to a project will be deleted from the draft bill, which was released for an eight-week public consultation at the start of October, abc.net.au reported.

Restrictions will also be placed on who can challenge the legal basis of an approval.

Acting Environment Minister Lauren Moss said the changes would balance protection of the environment with the need for investment certainty to create jobs.

"There will still be plenty of opportunities for genuine parties to have their say at both the assessment and approval stage," she said.

"But it does reduce the scope for those sort of campaign-style activities, if you like, to delay some of the much-needed economic development that we need in the territory."

Environmental groups, including the Environmental Defenders Office, have slammed the decision as an unexpected breach of trust.

"The consultation period looking at the bill that includes these appeal rights has not even closed yet," principal lawyer Gillian Duggin said.

"It suggests that the government has crumbled to industry interests without even taking into account broader community sentiment on this really important issue."

It is a sentiment echoed by the Northern Land Council, which has flagged concerns over transparency and accountability.

"When we've got the impending tension of oil and gas coming onshore in the Northern Territory … the government needs to ensure the changes to environmental protections in the Northern Territory are the best in the world," NLC CEO Joe Morrison said.

"If the industry is lobbying behind closed doors for a particular outcome, and the rest of the community — especially the Aboriginal community here in the Northern Territory — aren't party to those conversations, I think that's a concern.

"It's not the sort of open and accountable transparency that I think is required."

Moss said the government announced the changes to the draft bill during the consultation period in the interest of transparency.

Industry groups say the changes will prevent unnecessary delays, while still affording opponents the ability to appeal projects.

Northern Territory Chamber of Commerce CEO Greg Bicknell said industry groups were concerned the merits review would be carried out by the Civil and Administrative Tribunal, which could hold projects up "for a couple of years".

"We were very worried about people in other parts of the world having access to the merits review, perhaps for purely vexatious reasons, holding things up," he said.

"Those directly impacted or close by, they're the people that should have a say."

Bicknell said he hoped the decision would prompt project proponents to follow through on their investment interests in the Northern Territory.

"There was widespread industry concerns right across I think every industry association," he said.

"Investment tends to follow the path of least resistance, and we believe the change will put [those concerns] to rest."

   
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