Federal government abandons environment and heritage to the states while fast tracking industrial approvals

Last year the Federal Government invited Professor Graeme Samuel to review the Environment Protection Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999. One of his key recommendations was the establishment of: ‘national environmental standards, legally binding on the states and others, to guide development decisions and provide the ability to measure outcomes’. With these standards not yet developed, the Minister for the Environment has now abrogated any Federal responsibility by proposing to pass all decisions about the environment and heritage directly to the States.

Friends of Australian Rock Art sees the Federal Environment Minister’s proposed shakeup of environmental laws as a complete abandonment of the environment in favour of resource-based industries, which are now set to further benefit from Federal funding for their fast-tracked approvals.

Morrison and Ley have not only abandoned a duty of care to children, they have now expanded that to the nation. No duty of care for the environment, the climate, world unique Aboriginal heritage or threatened species, just a duty of care to their major donors and the fossil fuel industry.

Murujuga, the largest and oldest rock art gallery in the world, situated on WA’s Burrup peninsula and across the Dampier Archipelago, will be at the total mercy of the polluters if this decision goes ahead.

The fragile patina on the rock surface into which the petroglyphs were carved took tens of thousands of years to develop in an alkaline environment. But since the start of the petrochemical industry there in the 1980s the cumulative acidic fumes have caused the patina to start to dissolve and flake off. If large industrial emissions continue unchecked, the images will soon disappear from sight and the rock art will be destroyed altogether. A tragic loss for future generations and a mark of immense shame for those knowingly responsible.

It is bad enough already with both the Federal and WA governments’ tacit approval of Woodside’s development of the Scarborough gas field, which will seriously increase its acidic and greenhouse gas emissions contrary to the Paris agreement, their encouragement of Perdaman’s heritage-threatening Urea plant and the WA government’s tardy action on the dangerously polluting spillages of YARA Pilbara’s ammonium nitrate plant – but this is spitting in the face of Aboriginal people and their critically endangered heritage, especially in the wake of the Juukan Gorge debacle.

Gone is the pretence that the Australian Government has any concern for the natural environment or Aboriginal people’s heritage and culture, despite direct contact with the Minister from local Traditional Owners arguing against further development on Murujuga. The world now sees what a state captured by the extractive industries looks like.

And with the Federal government’s proposed devolution of its environmental responsibility to the states, how can the irreplaceable petroglyphs possibly survive if the Burrup peninsula is identified by the culturally irresponsible WA government as a region for exclusion from environmental assessment?

Morrison and Ley have put the world on notice that Australia cannot be trusted, yet again.

Judith Hugo, Co-convenor
Friends of Australian Rock Art
19 March 2022

FARA Press release 19032022