Concerns about changes to environmental laws dismissed

THE Abbott Government has dismissed legal concerns about changes to environmental laws that will give retrospective legal immunity to project approvals which failed to take into account official advice.

A Senate committee this week approved changes to the Commonwealth's environmental laws to protect at least 30 major projects, including controversial Queensland projects, from community legal challenges.

The changes will see project proponents protected from legal actions similar to that of a recent court case on a mine approval in the Tarkine National Park.

Among the projects to be protected from such court challenges was Clive Palmer's Waratah Coal mine, a recent dredging approval near Abbot Point and a fourth LNG facility on Curtis Island in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

Despite hearing concerns from the Law Council of Australia and the Scrutiny of Bills Committee about the effects, and retrospective nature, of the bill; the government-dominated committee approved it on Wednesday.

It will protect decisions made by Environment Minister Greg Hunt before December 31 last year from legal challenges where official conservation advice - such as that given by bodies like the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority - was not taken into account.

The Greens published a "dissenting report" on the bill, demanding it not proceed in its current form, while it is set to be debated in the Senate in two weeks.