The development of new national environmental standards, streamlining of approval processes with the States along with national engagement on Indigenous cultural heritage are to be prioritised by the Federal government.
The changes follow Professor Graeme Samuel’s interim report which has established that the existing Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 had become “cumbersome” and does not serve the interests of the environment or business.
Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley said it was no surprise that the statutory review found that 20-year-old legislation is struggling to meet the changing needs of the environment, agriculture, community planners and business.
“This is our chance to ensure the right protection for our environment while also unlocking job-creating projects to strengthen our economy and improve the livelihoods of every-day Australians. We can do both as part of the Australian Government’s COVID recovery plan, “ Ley said.
But more pointedly she noted that, “It is time to find a way past an adversarial approach and work together to create genuine reform that will protect our environment, while keeping our economy strong.”
Based on the interim report, the Commonwealth will commit to the following priority areas:
- Develop Commonwealth led national environmental standards which will underpin new bilateral agreements with State Governments.
- Commence discussions with willing states to enter agreements for single touch approvals (removing duplication by accrediting states to carry out environmental assessments and approvals on the Commonwealth’s behalf).
- Commence a national engagement process for modernising the protection of indigenous cultural heritage, commencing with a round table meeting of state indigenous and environment ministers. This will be jointly chaired by Minister Ley and the Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt.
- Explore market-based solutions for better habitat restoration that will significantly improve environmental outcomes while providing greater certainty for business. The Minister will establish an environmental markets expert advisory group.
In line with the interim report findings, the Commonwealth will maintain its existing framework for regulating greenhouse gas and other emissions, and would not propose any expansion of the EPBC Act in this area.
The Commonwealth will take steps to strengthen compliance functions and ensure that all bilateral agreements with States and Territories are subject to rigorous assurance monitoring. It will not, however, support additional layers of bureaucracy such as the establishment of an independent regulator.
While the report also raises a range of other issues and reform directions the government said that further consultation will be undertaken regarding these.
“I thank Professor Samuel for his work and for his very clear message that we need to act,” Ley said.
“As he works towards his final report, we will monitor its progress closely, while we continue to improve existing processes as much as possible.”