Select Committee on Parliament’s Appropriations and Staffing
Select Committees on the Conduct of a Judge and Allegations Concerning a Judge
Since environmental law was constitutionally a state-based power, the Commonwealth government was reluctant to intervene despite strong public sentiment.
The government held a minority in the Senate, with crossbench party the Australian Democrats holding the balance of power. In September 1981, the Democrats moved a successful motion to establish a select committee on Tasmania’s electricity needs and the ‘federal responsibility in assisting Tasmania to preserve its wilderness areas’.
Balancing the river’s environmental and cultural significance against Tasmania’s employment and electricity needs, the committee’s November 1982 report concluded a new hydro-electric scheme could be delayed for ‘at least three years’. In the meantime, ‘the Commonwealth may well be obliged to act to preserve the area and has a considerable number of powers and options open to it’.
After the 1983 federal election, a newly elected Commonwealth government used one of the ‘considerable powers’ the committee had identified to introduce an environmental protection law stopping construction and saving the newly declared World Heritage site. A High Court challenge by the Tasmanian government upheld the legislation’s constitutional validity.
Senator Brian Archer
Australian Democrats Senator for Victoria the Hon Donald Leslie Chipp, inaugural party leader, 2 November 1984. Australian Information Service.
Senator Bob Brown in the Senate chamber in 1999. DPS Auspic.
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Defining Moments in Australian History, National Museum of Australia
Video (6:58 duration), 1986, ABC Education