Rinehart boss blasts Labor’s ‘nature-positive’ agenda

Article by Brad Thompson courtesy of the Australian Financial Review.

One of Gina Rinehart’s top lieutenants says the Albanese government’s so-called nature-positive laws pose a huge threat to farming and mining.

While other big industry players have been reluctant to publicly criticise the government despite their concerns, Mrs Rinehart’s private business empire hit out over what it argues are flawed plans to rewrite environmental laws.

Hancock Agriculture boss Adam Giles said the process “smelled” like a repeat of the shambolic Indigenous heritage legislation rolled out by West Australia’s Labor government last year.

The WA government spent five years working on new Indigenous heritage laws but withdrew the legislation after just five weeks after admitting the laws were too onerous on miners, farmers and others.

Mr Giles said it was a tough time to be in mining and agriculture in Australia because of uncertainty around the legislative and regulatory regime being pursued by the Albanese government.

“It appears as though there’s inevitably another hit coming through these environmental reforms, most notably the nature positive plan which is almost like the WA Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act, but modelled to apply to people nationwide,” he said.

Mr Giles said there had been far too much “secrecy and uncertainty” around a rewrite of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

The former Northern Territory chief minister said the consultation process had been conducted largely in Canberra under draconian conditions that restricted access to phones and laptops.

“The review process on the EPBC based on the nature of positive concept has been shrouded in secrecy. It’s a select group of handpicked stakeholders who are allowed to join in after they’ve signed their rights away,” he said.

“So the average farmer in Australia, the miners and anyone else funding development has no idea of what the federal government is doing.

“And they (miner, farmers and others) are in danger of being saddled with some sort of overarching political motivated process that’s designed to get votes for Labor at the next election and offset the Greens vote.”

A final round of confidential consultations is scheduled to take place before the end of March, but government sources suggest the new laws will not be introduced to parliament for some time and may be delayed until next year.

Big miners fear the changes to add another level of complexity to already onerous environmental approval processes, but have been unwilling to publicly criticise the government.

The proposed changes follow a review by former Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Graeme Samuel, with the government moving to create a stand-alone Environmental Protection Agency and create new standards on protecting indigenous heritage.

The Hancock camp argues the government’s nature positive agenda and other changes in the pipeline go way beyond the findings of the Samuel review.

Mrs Rinehart first raised the alarm last year, quoting research showing the number of restrictions in the EPBC Act had grown by more than 440 per cent since it was introduced more than 20 years ago.

Australia richest person said the changes being contemplated by the government would involve “the biggest environmental related expansion since that Act was created”.

Mr Giles said Hancock Agriculture had gone “hell for leather” to make infrastructure upgrades on its farms and cattle stations before the introduction of WA’s revised Indigenous heritage laws last year and would take a similar approach to avoid delays caused by any new environmental laws.