Wednesday, 17 February 2021

A FEDERAL ENVIRONMENT ACT WORTH DEFENDING

 In July 2020, Graeme Samuel released his interim report on the second review of Australia’s national environment law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act). This interim report confirmed the community’s lack of trust in the Act’s effectiveness to protect the environment, which is in decline and under increasing threat.

This review is a once-in-a-decade chance to improve protection for the places and animals we love. But is the Commonwealth Government using it as an excuse to target the EPBC Act as merely green tape in need of cutting?

Samuel’s interim review report did recommend sweeping changes to the Act, such as: improving everyone’s access to quality ecological data (with ‘everyone’ including decision-makers, proponents and the community); more research into ecosystem functioning to improve confidence in predicting the impacts of development; clearer direction to avoid or mitigate environmental impacts from development; a set of legally enforceable national environmental standards; and removal of duplication between federal and state processes.

Samuel’sfinal report was submitted to Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley in October and was publicly released on January 28, 2021.

Before the submission on the final report, the Morrison Government was already cherry-picking recommendations to suit its agenda. It commenced work on handing over approvals to the states based on some “interim” national environmental standards. Interim standards hurriedly made and cemented in these agreements could undermine the development of the comprehensive national standards Samuel recommends for environmental protection and outcomes.

We need strong safeguards in place to protect our globally important places and unique wildlife. We also need a better regulator to oversee compliance. Samuel was scathing in highlighting that penalties issued over the past 10 years under the EPBC Act are less than a quarter of the parking fines issued in one year by Orange City Council.

Weakening the EPBC Act to speed up project approvals will only fast-track environmental destruction.

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