DEMOCRATS SENATOR Lyn Allison has added her voice to the public outcry against the Victorian Government’s decision to approve dredging in Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay.
“Victoria’s environmental laws are just too weak,” Senator Allison complained. “They give ministers carte blanche when making political decisions.”
“The state government’s processes were a sham from the start,” the senator said. “They did environmental studies [only] because they were forced to. Reports were kept secret, impact studies were inadequate and major changes made to the scope of the works after the environmental effects statement was completed.”
Senator Allison’s stinging criticism of Victoria’s environmental laws came on 11 January, the second day of the Blue Wedges’ legal challenge in the Federal Court in Melbourne against the dredging.
The conservation group was forced to rely on the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, as the relevant Victorian environmental laws provide no basis for legal challenge of the decision.
Victorian law affords total discretion to planning ministers in such matters. “This is highly convenient for state government ministers, but hardly sufficient when development risks serious and irreversible damage,” Allison said.
The success of the action will hinge on the court’s interpretation of jurisdiction. Commonwealth jurisdiction officially begins three nautical miles beyond Port Phillip Heads, and is limited to matters which are deemed to be of “national environmental significance”.