Chapter 12: The Australian experience with environmental federalism: constitutional and political perspectives
The Commonwealth (federal) government in Australia has a broad capacity to legislate on environmental matters as a result of an expansive interpretation by the High Court of Australia of the heads of power contained in section 51 of the Australian Constitution. However, in practice, the Commonwealth has pursued a highly cooperative form of environmental federalism that is based on political arrangements reached with the states which substantially limit its role and avoid duplication, or preemption, of state environmental regulation. A new phase of environmental federalism emerged following the election of the Abbott Coalition government in late 2013, with the recognition by the Commonwealth of state ‘sovereignty’ in relation to various matters, including the environment, and a consequential strategy to reduce significantly its role in environmental management. It is unclear at present how far this strategy will impact on the previously well-established cooperative approach to environmental federalism, but it constitutes a step in the opposite direction from the strong leadership on environmental matters that opinion polls indicate is widely expected of the Commonwealth by the Australian public.
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