Veteran Liberal MP Philip Ruddock has reportedly questioned his government’s plan to prevent environmental groups from challenging major mining projects in court.
Mr Ruddock, known as ‘The Father of the House’, aired the grievances in a Coalition party room meeting on Tuesday, The Guardian reported.
This week, the Abbott government announced it would attempt to repeal a law introduced by the Howard government that allows legal challenges by green groups in order to prevent job losses.
The Howard-era law had been “taken advantage of and needs to be fixed,” Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane told ABC Radio.
Mr Ruddock reportedly told the meeting the repeal was unnecessary because laws already exist to deter vexatious litigants.
Courts not parliament should resolve abuses of legal process, he was quoted as saying.
It was the Howard Government which extended the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to allow legal challenges by “individuals and organisations engaged in the protection, conservation or research into the environment within Australia and its territories”.
The fate of the repeal rests with the Senate, where Labor and the Greens have attacked the proposal.
Attorney-General George Brandis said Labor “should show that it cares more about jobs than inner-city greens”.
The amendment was proposed by the Government in reaction to the controversial Federal Court decision to overturn approval for work to start on the biggest-ever Adani coal mine in Queensland.
The Australia Institute thinktank criticised the move as an over-reaction, noting that third-party appeals to the Federal Court have only affected 0.4 per cent of all mining projects referred under the legislation since 2000.
“The job of the PM should be to unite the country – Abbott doesn’t seem to understand that Australians care about Australia, not just their own back yard,” the Australia Institute executive director Ben Oquist said.
Crossbench senator Glenn Lazarus said he was yet to see the detail of the government’s planned changes, but he would not be supporting them based on the thinktank’s numbers.
“I just see this as another attempt by this government to have full control and give the people of Australia no rights,” he told ABC radio on Wednesday, doubting the legislation will pass the Senate.
Labor’s environment spokesman Mark Butler slammed the move.
“This is a pathetic thought bubble devised, it would appear, by the government to distract from their current political woes,” Mr Butler told ABC radio.
The new policy caused ructions in the coalition party room on Tuesday with Liberal elder Philip Ruddock saying he had a problem with it, the Guardian reports.
The former attorney-general told the meeting if there were problems with abuse of process, it would be best to use the courts to solve that, such as via costs orders.
– with AAP