The Law and Policy of Environmental Federalism
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The Law and Policy of Environmental Federalism

A Comparative Analysis

Edited by Kalyani Robbins

This book provides a comparative analysis of the various approaches to environmental federalism and a consideration of what each system might learn from the others. Each chapter focuses on a different regime, and together they offer a broad overview of the field as well as original theory and policy analysis that is sure to meaningfully contribute to our understanding of environmental federalism as well as our policy-making future.
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Chapter 12: The Australian experience with environmental federalism: constitutional and political perspectives

Robert Fowler


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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