19 February 2020
The submission date for the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) review has been extended to 17 April 2020.
Professor Graeme Samuel AC, the independent reviewer of the EPBC Act, stated that many people who would have been eager to forward a submission have been rightfully focused on providing emergency response and support to the communities and wildlife during the recent bushfire events so extending the closing date was the right thing to do.
The EPBC Act requires that an independent review be undertaken at least every 10 years. The last review was undertaken by Dr Allan Hawke in 2008-2009. The thrust of the review is to ensure the legislation is fit for purpose.
The EPBC Act is more than 1000 pages of legislation and over 400 pages of regulations.
Wildlife Queensland has commenced its review submission and is certainly appreciative of the extension. There is no question that currently there is a decline in biodiversity and our environment has been significantly impacted by recent events which leads to the conclusion that despite current efforts the EPBC Act is not working.
Stronger environmental laws needed
Wildlife Queensland is of a view that stronger legislation is needed. However, Professor Samuel’s comment that “… it is vital that our primary national environmental law is well placed to deliver better outcomes for Australia’s environment and heritage, for business and for the community” causes us some concern that attempts may be made to weaken the existing laws. In the interim, the environment and our wildlife would be better served if governments actually used and enforced the powers that currently exist.
There are many issues of concern for Wildlife Queensland. The most significant issue is the need to enhance the purpose of the Act to actually protect the environment as well as our biodiversity. That should be the prime aim of the Act. The Hawke Review suggested the name of the Act be changed to Australian Environment Act and that recommendation is still relevant today.
Other key issues of concern for Wildlife Queensland include:
- The need for new triggers to protect matters of environmental national significance, including but not limited to:
- a national reserve estate – terrestrial and marine
- significant regional ecosystems particularly across different state or territory borders
- significant water resources
- greenhouse gas emissions.
- Protect and recover threatened species and ecological communities particularly where the range or distribution occur across borders.
- The establishment of an independent Environmental Protection Agency and ensure the decision-makers are obliged to exercise the powers given in the legislation to achieve the purpose of the Act.
- Ensure transparency and accountability are enshrined in the legislation and the public can readily access reasons for a decision.
- Provide public access to a national data system linking commonwealth, state and territory information on biodiversity, environmental impact, development approvals and planning systems.
- When assessing proposed developments accumulated regional impacts on the environment must be taken into consideration and not be restricted to the development under consideration.
- Ensure that there exist obligations to fulfil international environment and biodiversity protocols and treaties to which Australia is a signatory.
To find out how to make a submission and access the online submission form, visit the EPBC Act Review website.
Submissions are due by close of business Friday, 17 April 2020.