Jasmine Lee

ESA’s response to EPBC Interim Report

The ESA welcomes the publication of the Interim Report from the statutory review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).

The EPBC Act is intended to protect and conserve Australia’s most important environmental and heritage assets. The Interim Report, led by Professor Graeme Samuel, found that Australia’s current environmental trajectory is “unsustainable”, that our environmental laws are “ineffective and inefficient”, and that a “quantum shift” is required in the quality and accessibility of information available for environmental decision making.

The Interim Report makes many important recommendations to improve environmental regulation and protection. Despite many useful recommendations, the ESA believes that reforms detailed in the Interim Report will not be enough to protect Australia’s environment from ongoing threats and declines.

Critically, the Interim Report focuses on development, and implies that the main goal of the EPBC Act is to enable ‘ecologically sustainable development’. The primary objectives of the EPBC Act are to protect the environment and conserve biodiversity, not to enable development. The ecological community of practice in Australia is concerned by the focus of the Interim report on the perceived ‘costs’ of environmental regulation for industry and not on the ‘costs’ of development for preserving biodiversity and ecosystem services. Key among the objects of the Act is to protect and conserve Australia’s environment, and the sole focus of any review of the Act should be to enhance the Act’s ability to achieve this purpose.

The ESA therefore recommend that the final report:

  1. Retain and reinforce the role of an independent agency for monitoring and enforcing compliance with National Standards.
  2. Explicitly acknowledge the risks to biodiversity that will arise by transferring responsibility for development assessments to States and Territories without an independent environmental watchdog to uphold national standards.
  3. Provide recommended timeframes for implementation of components of the plan, and highlight risks when timing is misaligned. This would include addressing risks of immediate implementation of a State-based assessment and approvals process, in the absence of well formulated National Standards, or defined critical habitats.
  4. Require new MNES that include a new climate trigger, which includes the requirement for proponents to explicitly consider the cumulative impacts of their actions under specific climate change scenarios and transparently disclose the full emissions profile of the development.

To read the ESA response in full, see the ESA Response to the EPBC Interim Report.