Media Releases - 28 January 2021

Samuel Review calls for overhaul of national environment laws and forest protections

Image: Melanie Erler

The Wilderness Society welcomes the long-awaited release of the ten-year Independent Review of Australia’s environment laws (the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act) by Professor Graeme Samuel AC and thanks him for his work. 

The Report has articulated that the EPBC Act was fundamentally failing to deliver the “Commonwealth’s core responsibilities for protecting the environment and conserving biodiversity” and that “the EPBC Act requires fundamental reform” to enable “the environment and our iconic places to be protected, maintained and actively enhanced”.

Suzanne Milthorpe, the Wilderness Society’s National Environment Laws Campaign Manager says, “Over 30,000 scientists, law experts and community members made submissions into this review. Overwhelmingly, they called for the Government to act and reform our national nature laws, to end Australia’s extinction crisis and to guarantee Australians the right to have a say in decisions about how we protect our natural icons. 

“The Review has accepted the view of the scientific community, the public and conservationists that a failure to undertake widespread reform is, as Graeme Samuel said, ‘to accept the continued decline of our iconic places and the extinction of our most threatened plants, animals and ecosystems.'” Professor Samuel’s report clearly reflects public expectations, experts' views and the evidence. The question is now, will the Government. 

“After all this work, after decades of worsening extinctions, out-of-control habitat loss and without reform, we can’t just have another round of this Government choosing to consult and ignore. Our ancient and unique natural heritage is at stake. 

“This review shows that the system is broken and only fundamental reform of our national environment laws will turn around the extinction crisis. Professor Samuel has clearly shown that this reform must be based around legally binding National Standards that protect wildlife, heritage and habitat, and highlights that current EPBC standards can not deliver the protection required to alter the current trajectory of environmental decline.

“The fundamental test for our national environment laws is can they end Australia’s extinction crisis and safeguard our iconic natural and cultural heritage for future generations. The laws, institutions and policies, in whatever shape they take, ultimately need to stop the destruction of habitat. But laws are only as good as their enforcement: we need clear rules and an independent watchdog to enforce them. If the destruction is not stopped, the extinction will continue. 

“Years of reviews and evidence have found that to be effective, our laws must guarantee a meaningful role for communities in making decisions about our natural icons. The Samuel Report upholds this, finding that 'the ability of the public to hold decision-makers to account is a fundamental foundation of Australia’s democracy'.

“The Morrison Government must now surely respond by pulling their Bill to roll-back Commonwealth environmental responsibilities as it is totally anathema to what is required and what the Review recommends. 

“The immediate and urgent legislative reforms put forward by Samuel are not at all what the Government has currently before the Senate. It is crystal clear that any devolution of Commonwealth environment responsibilities without adequate and effective national standards and independent assurance frameworks in place is not in line with Samuel’s recommendation,” Ms Milthorpe concluded. 

Tim Beshara, Manager of Policy and Strategy, added, “Regional Forest Agreements were brought in almost 24 years ago as a political protection racket and gave the native forest logging industry a blanket carve-out from core provisions of the EPBC Act. They’ve had nearly a quarter of a century to improve their environmental credentials and be ready to face the same environmental standards as every other industry but have catastrophically failed to do so. It’s an unequivocal fact that this industry is driving the extinction of iconic species like the Leadbeater's Possum, the Greater Glider and the Swift Parrot. After years of calling for RFA reforms, we welcome the Samuel recommendation that the special treatment of native forest logging be removed. 

“We still don’t know the full impacts of recent catastrophic bushfires on our forest fauna. It’s urgent that the mindless and destructive industrial logging is reined in to give our precious wildlife some hope of survival,” he concluded. 


For further comment contact Suzanne Milthorpe on 0408582396 or Tim Beshara on 0437878786