Coalition would reopen negotiations on environmental powers

THE Federal Coalition is satisfied the Queensland Government can take over Commonwealth environmental powers, despite the stoush last year over approvals for the massive Alpha coal mine.

Coalition environment spokesman Greg Hunt said if the party won government in September, one of his first acts would be to reopen negotiations to hand over the approvals powers to the states.

But it comes after the political stoush between Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke and the state government over the state's approval for the Alpha coal mine.

Documents released by the federal Environment Department revealed that the original state approval for the mine did not take into account its downstream effects on the Great Barrier Reef.

The speed of the state assessment and omission of effects on the reef were key points of contention during last year's political stoush on the mine.

It also caused a rift between the state and federal governments over environmental assessment, months before Prime Minister Julia Gillard took the handover off the COAG table earlier this year.

But Mr Hunt said the Coalition would immediately re-open negotiations with state governments for the handover.

While some environmental groups have expressed concerns about the handover, Mr Hunt said he would not be making wide changes to existing federal laws.

Instead, he said he planned to use the existing approvals bilateral process in the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to make the changes.

He said under Coalition plans the Commonwealth would still retain powers where conflicts of interest arose, such as where a state-owned corporation proposed projects which could impact Matters of National Environmental Significance.

Mr Hunt said he was not afraid to give a project the "red light" if it would have unacceptable impacts on the environment, but was more concerned about delays associated with environmental assessments.

He cited examples from the Business Council of Australia that some resource projects were unnecessarily delayed by the Commonwealth assessment process.

But in a recent Senate inquiry, BCA representatives were unable to give any specific examples of delays associated with the assessments.

Mr Hunt said the Senate inquiry, led by Labor left figures and Green Senators, was "highly politicised", and the changes the Coalition planned were largely administrative.

He also promised the Coalition would never allow mining or exploration for resources on the Great Barrier Reef, while supporting the state government's ports strategy.

"I've had discussions with the state government about their ports strategy, and I think it's a very valuable step," Mr Hunt said.

"They've been stronger on consolidation of ports near the reef than the previous state Labor government, and we will be working with them to continue that approach."

Mr Hunt said the Coalition's plans also included a Reef 2050 strategy, which primarily centred on maintaining existing government initiatives tackling the crown of thorns starfish.

He said the conservative side of the aisle was also committed to maintaining the $200 million in the current budget for the Reef Rescue program.

But he said he was concerned not enough of those funds were directed to supporting farming initiatives to reduce run-off.

"We'll have a little more to say on that closer to the election, but we definitely think a better way is to increase incentives to farmers, rather than the current government's approach," Mr Hunt said.



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