NSW minister Matt Kean’s call for national environment watchdog at odds with federal Coalition | Australian politics

The NSW environment minister, Matt Kean, has backed calls for the introduction of a national environment regulator with the power to enforce the law, putting him at odds with his federal Coalition counterparts.

Responding to a once-in-a decade review that found Australia’s conservation laws are failing, Kean said the regulator should be similar to the NSW Environment Protection Authority and independent of government.

He said the Morrison government should also ensure that strong new national environmental standards, as recommended in the review by the former competition watchdog Graeme Samuel, were in place and formed the basis for negotiations over the transfer of environmental decision-making powers to the states and territories.

“I think we should have strong environmental standards and those standards should be enforced by a strong environmental watchdog, just like we have in NSW,” he said.

At a media conference on Thursday with the federal environment minister, Sussan Ley, Kean welcomed the final report of the Samuel review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act, which called for a major overhaul of the laws.

Samuel made 38 recommendations, including establishing new independent bodies to take on responsibility for monitoring the environment and enforcing compliance. The centrepiece was the creation of a new set of environmental standards that “should be adopted in full and immediately implemented”.

Kean said he had written to Ley to express the NSW government’s view that the Morrison government should adopt strong standards that were independently enforced to ensure that any changes to national laws did not water down environmental protection across the country.

The Morrison government has been trying to pass a bill through the Senate that would clear the way for state and territory governments to take on more responsibility for approving developments that affect the environment.

Ley said bilateral agreements between Canberra and the states, supported by environmental standards, would reduce the time it takes to assess and approve developments and “more importantly” improve environmental protection.

“We will lift standards and lift environmental protection across the country,” she said. “I understand and have always said that we will have an independent cop on the beat”.

The Morrison government, however, has given no indication of what form an “independent cop” would take and has previously rejected calls from conservation groups for a separate national environmental protection authority.

Samuel recommended the transfer of approval powers occur only alongside legally-binding national environmental standards that had independent enforcement. His report included a set of interim standards that he said the government should adopt immediately.

Speaking later to Guardian Australia, Kean said he did not want negotiations between the Morrison government and the states and territories to result in NSW having its standards “watered down to appease other states”.

“The Samuel report should be the starting point for any reform,” he said. “I would be very concerned about any reforms that would be less than what Graeme Samuel recommended.”