The Environment Effects Act 1978 is Victoria, Australia's environmental impact assessment statute. The comment posted below appears in the March 2011 edition of the University of Washington's Pacific Rim Law & Policy Journal (20 Pac. Rim L. & Pol'y J. 455).
In 1978 Victoria’s Parliament enacted the Environment Effects Act 1978, creating procedures by which the state could call for environmental impact assessments prior to beginning work on proposed construction projects. The Act, however, is significantly flawed, in that it authorizes the Planning Minister, an elected official, the power not only to promulgate guidelines for the administration of the environmental assessment process, but also the power to determine whether the environmental effects of a project are outweighed by the economic or social benefits of the project’s completion. A case study involving Bastion Point offers a prime example of the effect outside political interests may play in subverting the protection of the environment. With Bastion Point, the Planning Minister’s approval of a contentious construction proposal led a community group to sue the Planning Minister in Victoria’s Supreme Court, asserting he failed to adequately weigh the environmental effects of the proposed project under the Environment Effects Act 1978. The community group lost at the Supreme Court, but their case demonstrated the shortcomings of the Act and the unreasonably high levels of discretion the Planning Minister enjoys. This comment argues that four changes should be made to the Act which decrease the Planning Minister’s discretion in order to better protect the environment.