Environmentalism in Australia is one of the major issues influencing the New South Wales planning system today. There are numerous ways of defining this widely used phrase of ‘environmentalism’, and over the past few decades it has been a universally accepted term within state and local government institutions. The rise of environmentalism in Australia began with the appreciation for the natural environment following European settlement in 1788, urban reformers in the early 20th Century, and the influence of World War Two. The success of the green bans radically changed the way government managed environmental issues. Environmentalism has completely altered the method in which state and local governments assess developments. This significant adaptation by these authorities has enabled the NSW planning system to improve its efficiency and control of environmental planning legislation.
According to Tow, environmentalism is the primary doctrine of the environment. Within the context of Australia, it “refers to the way that this doctrine is practiced on this continent, the respect given thereto and the influence upon Australian society. The development of such is a continuing process with temporal and spatial characteristics” (Tow, 3). Bull understood environmentalism as a catastrophe for society and phrased it as the rise of “environmentally destructive technologies” (Bull, 5).
Another view of environmentalism is offered by Taschner, who believed that “it is unlikely that many people would not consider themselves environmentalists” (Taschner, 2001, p.3). Doyle considered the present stage of environmentalism is one of Postmodernism, allowing market principles to dictate environmental management.
The following historical overview of the rise of environmentalism in Australia is an adaptation from Taschner, who produced a thesis on ‘Environmental Activism in Australia’. Following colonisation of Australia in 1788, the new settlers were introduced to the natural landscape, flora and fauna. In fact they imported European flora and fauna, which caused permanent damage to the existing Australian habitats. Preservation was a key element between the mid-nineteenth century and post World War Two.
At the conclusion of World War Two, public perception of the environment had changed because the protection of native flora and fauna became a vital association to their Australian heritage. Urban reformers worked to improve living conditions within cities that had problems in public health, welfare, pollution and the need for more parkland areas. Conservationists were active in their willingness to preserve the built and natural environments.
Tow mentioned that in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the development boom in Sydney caused a rise in environmental awareness (Tow, 1989, p.6). An interesting observation was found that revealed the NSW planning system lacked adequate community consultation, as “it was not until 1970 that major developments were compulsorily made public and advertised” (Tow, 1989, p.12). Nowadays, public involvement is a major component in the planning system.
The Green Ban movement was established in 1971 when a group of women from the fashionable suburb of Hunter’s Hill required help from the New South Wales Builders Labourers’ Federation (NSWBLF) to save Kelly’s Bush. During the period of 1971-1974, the movement was primarily involved in addressing the struggles that existed between capital, labour and the state. In 1972 there was a proposal to build a sports stadium in Centennial Park, Sydney, although after fierce opposition and a protest of about 12,000 people, the green ban was successful in defending the conservation of the historic parkland. By 1974, 42 green bans had been imposed, holding up well over $3 billion worth of development (Burgmann & Burgmann, 1998).
Jack Mundey, one of the pioneers of the movement wrote: ‘’what would we have said to the next generation? That we destroyed Sydney in the name of full employment? No, we wanted to construct buildings that were socially useful’’ (Burgmann 1993). Thus the rise of environmentalism in Australia was a dynamic period in the contribution towards the planning system as it is known today.
Environmentalism has contributed immensely to the development of state and local government planning practice in NSW, and has influenced environmental planning legislation at the same time. State intervention in planning legislation is a challenging task since it is involved with a broad spectrum of issues affecting the NSW public. In fact “government is involved in juggling environmental and economic interests” (Chappell & Norberry, 1990, p.109).
State government established The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), to restore, protect and enhance the quality of the environment in NSW (Farrier & Stein, 2006). In 1994 the EPA conducted an investigation in NSW to determine and better understand the attitudes of the public with regards to environmental issues. 1,115 residents were interviewed and the study found that 85% of the responders were concerned either ‘a great deal’ or ‘a fair amount’ about environmental problems. Furthermore, 12% were not concerned and only 3% admitted that they were not concerned at all (Lynch, 1997, p.13,14).
The Land and Environment Court was established in 1979 and deals with cases including planning, environmental science and protection, natural resource management and land rights. Also BASIX was established in 2004 to ensure developments are built to use less water and produce less greenhouse gasses. These are two other examples of the influence of environmentalism in state government.
Local government has also been involved with developing the environmental planning process by establishing numerous policies and mechanisms. These include the introduction of LEP’s, EIS and State of the Environment Reports, biodiversity conservation, ecologically sustainable development (ESD), mining titles, REP’s, and water management (this list is not complete and is only an indication of what local government has achieved).
Environmental Planning Instruments (EPI’s) apply to local government in the context of a Local Environment Plan (LEP). Environmentalism influences local government to the extent that a State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) may override a LEP. In the case where no LEP applies to a particular area, a Regional Environmental Plan (REP) or SEPP may apply to the area and requires development consent (Farrier & Stein, 2006, p.215). Environmental assessment in NSW is assisted by an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Under Part 3a of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, a major project requires an EIS to be prepared.
Jonathan Lynch quoted Ryan, who authored ‘Local Environment Protection’, commented that local government has a vital role in contributing to environmental management. It is within its jurisdiction to enforce landcare programs, waste minimisation, environmental impact assessment, heritage protection and other important roles. Ryan also mentioned that a majority of the councils already have environmental strategies in operation, revamped their organisational structure and have now placed more emphasis on environmental issues (Lynch, 1997, p.28).
In summation, environmentalism is a vital component in the planning framework of NSW and as the world has become more focused on environmental issues, we need to tackle these issues and deal with them properly. Government organisations on all levels have placed more emphasis on controlling developments to ensure the environment is protected and all means to improve the existing surroundings is carried out. Overall, state and local government organisations are making a conscious effort to ensure planning policies control such developments, although there is room for more to be done.
Bull clearly expressed the ongoing debate in the importance of environmentalism and the decision making process in the government controlled planning system; “Rather than viewing the natural environment as a phenomenon, decisions are made on the basis of what is good for people rather than what is good for the environment” (Bull, 1994, p.37).
Finally, there is one quote that recognises the emerging challenges that planners face today and in the future; “No single explanation will suffice in helping planners and policy makers arrive at tangible answers to our environmental predicament, however understanding the development and implementation of environmental laws, plans and policies is of fundamental importance in approaching any solution” (Bull, 1994, p.1).
Burgmann, V. 1993. Power and Protest: a perspective on Sydney’s green ban campaign, 1970‑74. UNSW, Sydney.
Burgmann, M. & Burgmann, V. 1998. Green Bans. UNSW, Sydney.
Bull, L. 1994. Environmentalism: Power, Politics and Prospects for Environmental Protection in the NSW Planning System. UNSW, Sydney.
Chappell, D. & Norberry, J. 1990. “Determining Polluters: the search for effective strategies”. UNSW Law Journal vol. 13(1) p. 97-117.
Doyle, T. J. 2001. Green Power: The Environmental Movement in Australia. UNSW, Sydney.
Farrier, D. & Stein, P. 2006. The Environmental Law Handbook. 4thEdition. Redfern Legal Centre Publishing, Sydney.
Lynch, J.A. 1997. Environmentalism, ecological sustainable development and permaculture: eco-villages as a practical solution. UNSW, Sydney.
Taschner, B. 2001. Environmental Activism in Australia. UNSW, Sydney.
Tow, D. 1989. The Development of Australia’s Environmentalism. UNSW, Sydney.