ENVIRONMENT watchdog groups have slammed the state government’s departmental mergers, with one describing it as like putting the fox in the hen house.
Premier Denis Napthine announced the Department of Sustainability and Environment would be merged with the Department of Primary Industry to help boost productivity of the food and fibre sector.
A new Department of State Development, Business and Innovation will incorporate Regional Development Victoria and energy and resources.
The Department of Planning and Community Development (DPCD) will also be abolished and its Aboriginal and veterans affairs responsibilities incorporated under the Department of Premier and Cabinet.
Other DPCD functions will come under the new Department of Transport, Planning and Local Infrastructure.
Dr Napthine said the changes would demonstrate that “Victoria is open for business”.
Environment Victoria’s chief executive Kelly O’Shanassy said by scrapping the stand-alone environment department there was a risk the Coalition government would continue to put in place environmentally-destructive policies, including tighter wind farm laws.
“If done badly, combining environment protection and primary production is akin to putting the fox in the hen house,” she said.
“But environment restoration can go hand-in-hand with improved agricultural and industry productivity if done right.”
Friends of the Earth campaigns co-ordinator Cam Walker described the new state development department as a “veiled way of fast-tracking environmentally-damaging developments” and feared it would lead to more coal developments.
He called for more emphasis on renewable energy resources.
“Wind energy has benefited Dr Napthine more than any other politician in the state,” he said. “Two-thirds of the state’s wind turbines are located in his electorate.
“Sadly, he has refused to rewrite the rules, while attempting to position himself as being pro-renewables.”
Ms O’Shanassy said the government must switch its approach from natural resource exploitation to sustainable use of Victoria’s natural assets.
“With a new Premier comes a new opportunity to make the switch and take Victoria forward,” she said.
“We are, however, very concerned the government has reiterated its support for new coal development and placed this responsibility in the new Department of State Development.”