Media Releases - 20 July 2020

Independent review calls for ‘fundamental reform of national environmental law’

Forest in South West WA. Image: Glenn Walker

The Wilderness Society welcomes the release of the ten-year Independent Review of Australia’s environment laws (the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act) by Graeme Samuel that has articulated that the “the environment and our iconic places are in decline and under increasing threat”. Professor Samuel also reported that “The community does not trust the EPBC Act to deliver effective protection of the environment”.

Suzanne Milthorpe, The Wilderness Society’s National Environment Laws Campaign Manager says, “The review outlines the catastrophic impact of twenty years of failure in Australia’s environment laws, impacts that have been in plain sight throughout the operation of the EPBC Act. This is a law that was introduced by a Coalition Government and administered by Coalition governments for 14 of those 20 years. 

“Now this Coalition Government is asking us to trust them on immediately handing environmental safeguards to the states while promising at some time in the future to make changes of an ill-defined nature to improve environmental standards. 

“Professor Samuel’s report outlines that environment laws are rarely policed, that endangered species recovery plans are rarely implemented, that Australia’s most important environmental values are in decline and yet the central Government response is to seek to hand environmental approval powers to the states with no concrete proposals to address any of the main environmental challenges facing Australia. 

“A problem as big as Australia’s spiralling extinction and deforestation crises is fixable, but to fix it Australia needs strong safeguards to protect native species and precious forests, and an independent watchdog to enforce national environmental standards. 

“The community will continue to be justified in withholding confidence that anything will change without the kind of specifics not covered by the draft independent report or the Government’s response - including recommended standards to explicitly prevent deforestation, development and logging of high conservation value habitats for our threatened wildlife and expectations for active and funded restoration of our landscapes, including those so horrifically impacted in last summer’s extreme bushfires.

The Wilderness Society welcomes Professor Samuel’s call for the establishment of an “an independent compliance and enforcement regulator, not subject to actual or implied political direction from the Commonwealth Minister” and the proposal that he lead a process to define and agree a strong set of national standards. 

Suzanne Milthorpe says, “We’re open to any genuine and reasonable process that will deliver real environmental outcomes for Australia by ending Australia’s extinction and deforestation crises. But this should not be preempted by any efforts to devolve responsibilities to the States without fixing the fundamental problems in the Act”.

For further comment contact Suzanne Milthorpe on 0408 582 396 or Tim Beshara on 0437 878 786.