The EPBC Act interim report
Here's what you need to know
On 20 July, the independent reviewer looking at the EPBC Act, Professor Graeme Samuel, released his interim report for the review. On the same day, Environment Minister Sussan Ley outlined how the Government will respond to the review.
The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act)—Australia’s failed national environment law—is up for a once-in-a-decade review. This review is looking at if the EPBC Act is delivering for our environment and how well it’s being implemented and enforced.
This is a vital opportunity to deal with Australia’s appalling extinction record by bringing in strong new national nature laws that work, an independent watchdog to enforce them, and ensure communities have the right to have a say and know what’s happening to the wildlife and places they love.
On July 20, the independent reviewer looking at the EPBC Act, Professor Graeme Samuel, released his interim report for the review. On the same day, Environment Minister Sussan Ley outlined how the Government will respond to the review.
What’s in the report?
Professor Samuel 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 shows that the EPBC Act is not fit to address current or future environmental challenges, like the growing impacts of climate change and major bushfire seasons, and that our national environment law does little to restore our environment.
Professor Samuel 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, and
- That communities should 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.
Unfortunately, the report was missing:
- A plan for how we tackle the major drivers of extinction and degradation like deforestation and climate change,
- How we fix the way state governments regulate native forest logging, or
- Clear recommendations to tackle significant issues with enforcing the EPBC Act, such as data and monitoring that helps us track the impact of projects and Government decisions.
This is an interim report, so we will be engaging with Professor Samuel to ensure those issues are dealt with in the final report. Take a look at the Interim Report into the EPBC Act.
How did the Morrison Government respond?
The Government's response to the report was disappointing. Minister Ley identified four priorities for the Government when it comes to environment laws:
- Immediately hand the Commonwealth’s environment responsibilities to the states—on the idea that the States will implement national environmental standards on behalf of the Morrison Government.
- Develop National Environment Standards—sometime. The Government plans to introduce interim standards, but it’s not clear if they can do it before they hand their responsibilities to the states or how they’ll ensure the states actually follow them.
- Start a national process to improve the protection of indigenous cultural heritage—important, if it works to fix the massive failure of our laws to protect cultural heritage, recognises the rights and interests of First Nations Australians in decision-making and enshrines decision-making processes in relation to their traditional lands.
- Explore market-based solutions for better habitat restoration— potentially a good idea, but market-based solutions only work where strong regulatory safeguards are in place to ensure that the most high-value habitat and places are protected by law, not money.
The Government has ruled out an independent watchdog, and that they will be rushing legislation to hand over their responsibilities to the states as early as August.
The Federal Government is 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. This is not on, and will only lock in more extinction, more loss and more destruction.
Here’s how you can help
The Government needs to hear from you that you don’t want them to hand-pass their responsibilities to the states before the independent review is complete and our environment laws can be trusted to deliver real environmental outcomes.
Together, we can build pressure on the federal government to respond to the review and to make changes that provide a certain future for our wildlife and protect Australia’s globally unique and precious nature.