The Samuel Review of the EPBC Act

The Samuel Review of the EPBC Act

Jarrah Forest, WA. Image: Patrick Gardner.

On 20 July 2020, the independent reviewer looking at the EPBC Act, Professor Graeme Samuel, released his interim report for the review. He found that ‘Australia’s natural environment and iconic places are in an overall state of decline and are under increasing threat’ and that communities do ‘not trust the EPBC Act to deliver for the environment’.

The report noted that to restore that community trust, we need:

  • Binding, enforceable and high-bar National Environmental Standards that clearly set out what’s off-limits for destruction
  • An independent watchdog to monitor the impact of projects and ensure the law is enforced
  • Communities to have free access to information about decisions, the opportunity to substantively engage in decision-making and the right to challenge bad decisions taken by Government

On the same day, Environment Minister Sussan Ley outlined how the Government will respond to the review. The Morrison Government wanted to rush to hand the Commonwealth’s environment responsibilities to the states on the understanding that they will implement national environmental standards on behalf of the Australian Government. But it’s not clear if they can or will get those standards in place before they hand their responsibilities to the states or how they’ll ensure the states actually follow them.

The Government also ruled out an independent watchdog to ensure the law is enforced equally for everyone, even state governments.

The Morrison Government was essentially asking us to trust them with 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.

On 28 January 2021, the Government finally released the final report from Professor Graeme Samuel AC. Read more about the final report and what the new Government must do to deliver nature laws that work.

The Independent Review of Australia’s environment laws (The Samuel Review) makes 38 recommendations for a package of reforms to the EPBC Act, including 22 priorities for immediate action, which it considers necessary to resolve the fundamental inadequacies leading to Australia’s growing environmental decline. These include:
  • Implement legally binding national environment standards that clearly protect wildlife, critical habitat and World and national heritage.
  • End dangerous exemptions for destructive practices like native forest logging.
  • Establish an independent watchdog to enforce our laws fairly and transparently to protect nature and communities, not vested interests.
  • Work with First Nations people to properly protect cultural heritage and recognise and meaningfully consider Traditional Ecological Knowledge in conservation decisions.
  • Strengthen community rights so we can meaningfully participate in decisions about protecting our environment and legal rights to challenge bad or poorly made decisions.

The Independent Review of the EPBC is clear: this Review shows that the system is broken and only fundamental reform of our national environment laws will turn around Australia’s extinction crisis and safeguard our iconic natural and cultural heritage.

Having strong, effective environment laws is vitally important as right now Australia leads the world in mammal extinction and is second only to Indonesia for biodiversity loss. We’re seeing the increasing impacts of climate change on our communities and landscapes, including the catastrophic 2019-2020 bushfires and the recent bleaching events on the Barrier Reef.

The Wilderness Society now welcomes the appointment of Tanya Plibersek to Environment Minister.

"The EPBC Act hasn’t been reformed in ways that benefit the environment since it was established," said National Campaigns Director, Amelia Young of the appointment. "The core task will be the response to the Samuel Review and establishing an independent EPA, all the while undoing the damage done to the administrative side of the Act such as the deliberate underfunding of recovery plans."