The Conservation Council of WA (CCWA) has welcomed plans announced today to establish a new federal environmental protection agency and reform existing environment laws.
Speaking on Thursday, the Federal Environment Minister, Tanya Plibersek, said that “Australia's environment laws are broken”. The minister referenced the 2019 Samuel Review into the existing Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC), which found the EPBC Act to be ‘outdated, requiring fundamental reform’ and that ‘Australians do not trust that the act is delivering for the environment, for business or for the community.
The Labor government says that the changes – which it is calling its ‘Nature Positive Plan’ - are a direct response to Professor Graeme Samuel’s review. It plans to have draft legislation ready by mid-2023 and introduced to parliament before the end of that year.
New federal EPA ‘to restore confidence’
According to reporting by the Guardian, the new federal environmental protection agency will be given powers to decide whether or not developments proceed and will enforce a new suite of laws to both protect and restore nature.
The new EPA will be an independent statutory entity, with its own CEO. It will be responsible for compliance and enforcement under an amended EPBC Act and will ‘hold proponents to account for their information, decisions and undertakings’.
New National Environmental Standards will be established, setting out the environmental outcomes which the new laws will seek to achieve. These will relate to Matters of National Environmental Significance (MNES); First Nations engagement and participation in decision making; community engagement and consultation; regional planning and environmental offsets. The standard for MNES will be subject to its own consultation, involving stakeholders, state and territory governments.
Mandatory publication of emissions
The federal government has said that it supports the Samuel Review recommendation that proponents be required to publish their scope 1 and scope 2 emissions projections, across the lifetime of the project, and disclose how their proposal will align with Australia’s national and international commitments to reduce emissions.
Climate change will also be enshrined as a mandatory consideration for proponents.
New approach to ‘strengthen conservation protection and recovery’
The plan outlines a new approach to conservation, proposing planning which is more ‘efficient, agile and effective’. An improved ‘national conservation planning framework’ will be put in place with a greater priority given to ‘on-ground action’.
This will include a planning document for each nationally listed threatened species and ecological community, as well a ‘clear requirement’ for conservation planning documents to identify and prioritise threats, recovery actions and important habitat.
Conservation planning documents will also be made available through a digitised system, allowing stakeholders to access important information more easily.
Partnerships with First Nations and strengthened cultural heritage protections
The federal government has also outlined new, standalone cultural heritage laws to strengthen First Nations cultural heritage protections, nationally. This would involve the replacement of the Commonwealth Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act and placing cultural heritage protections earlier in the assessment and approval processes.
The new National Environmental Standard for first nations engagement will be led by the existing Indigenous Advisory Committee (under the EPBC Act) and will coincide with the creation of a new approach to include species of cultural significance in environmental and heritage protection processes.
‘Turning the tide on nature destruction’
Speaking on Thursday, Tanya Plibersek said that the revamped environmental laws would be a ‘win-win’: “a win for the environment and a win for business”.
“Nature is being destroyed. Businesses are waiting too long for decisions. That’s bad for everyone. Things have to change”.
CCWA Acting Executive Director, Maggie Wood, welcomed the ambition set out by the federal government, but urged caution with the draft legislation yet to be tabled.
“Conservation organisations across the country have been calling for drastic reform of the EPBC Act for years. It is reassuring that the federal government recognises this legislation, now more than 20 years old, is no longer fit to manage our response to increasingly urgent nature and climate issues.
“The principles outlined by the Federal Environment Minister are sound and provide a good framework on which to build more comprehensive and rigorous environmental laws. However, suggestions that the new laws would be designed to speed up decision making in favour of business is concerning. Proposals must be assessed thoroughly, not quickly, and attempts to streamline any decision making process must not come at the cost of less thorough assessment.
“As WA’s peak body for the environment and conservation, we look forward to working with the federal government during its consultation process.”
MEDIA INFORMATION: The Conservation Council of WA (CCWA) is the state’s foremost non-profit, non-government conservation organisation representing more than 100 environmental organisations across Western Australia.
For more information, visit: ccwa.org.au.
CONTACT: For any enquiries relating to this release, please contact Robert Davies
08 9420 7291 / 0412 272 570 or by email, [email protected]