Professor Graeme Samuel AC introduces the Final Report of the Independent Review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).
A short summary of Review and the recommended reforms set out in the Final Report.
A summary that sets out the key problems identified by the Review and the reforms recommend to address these.
The Final Report provides 38 recommendations for reform which should be considered in the context of the relevant chapter of the Report in which they appear. The recommendations in the report are set out in line with 3 tranches: immediate reforms; a second tranche of reform completed within 12 months; and a third and final tranche completed within 2 years. Chapter 12 provides the reform pathway recommended to implement the recommendations.
About the Review
The Minister for the Environment appointed Professor Graeme Samuel AC to conduct the Independent Review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 in October 2019. Read about the Reviewer, the Expert Panel, and the terms of reference and the Review process.
Chapter 1 - National-level protection and conservation of the environment and iconic places
The environment and our iconic places are in decline and under increasing threat. The EPBC Act is ineffective. The Act is not fit for current or future environmental challenges, including climate change. New legally enforceable National Environmental Standards should be the centrepiece of fundamental reform of the Act.
Chapter 2 - Indigenous culture and heritage
The EPBC Act has failed to fulfil its objectives as they relate to the role of Indigenous Australians. A recommended National Environmental Standard for Indigenous engagement and participation in decision-making should be adopted. The suite of national-level laws that protect Indigenous cultural heritage are unsatisfactory and out of step with community expectations. They need comprehensive review.
Chapter 3 - Reducing legislative complexity
The EPBC Act is complex leading to. confusion and inconsistent decision-making. In the short-term, legislative amendments to the EPBC Act are required. In the longer-term, comprehensive redrafting of the Act (or a new set of related Acts) is required.
Chapter 4 - Trust in the EPBC Act
The community does not trust the EPBC Act to deliver effective protection of the environment and industry view it as cumbersome, duplicative and slow. Reforms should focus on improving transparency of decision-making, including new advisory committees to build confidence decision-makers have access to the best available information. . Current legal standing arrangements should be retained, and legal challenges should be limited to matters of outcome, including through limited merits review.
Chapter 5 - Interactions with States and Territories
The EPBC Act is duplicative, inefficient and costly for the environment, business and the community. The interaction between Commonwealth and State and Territory laws and regulations leads to duplicative processes. Reforms recommended by the Review provide confidence for the Commonwealth to accredit other parties.
Chapter 6 - Commonwealth decisions and interactions with other Commonwealth laws
The EPBC Act seeks to recognise other Commonwealth environmental regulatory and management frameworks that manage environmental impacts, however the interplay between the Act and these other frameworks is complex and onerous. The Review’s recommended National Environmental Standards and accreditation model should be considered for all situations to ensure effective environmental outcomes and to improve efficiency. The regulation of wildlife trade is inflexible and does not always align with international requirements. Amendments are recommended to bring the Act into line with Australia’s international obligations.
Chapter 7 - Accreditation, audit and independent oversight
Past attempts to accredit the approval processes of States and Territories have failed due to community concerns that decision-making would be too discretionary and inconsistent with the national obligations and national interest. The new, independent, statutory position of Environment Assurance Commissioner (EAC) should be created to audit and report on performance.
Chapter 8 - Planning and restoration
The EPBC Act does not facilitate maintenance or restoration of the environment. Cumulative impacts on the environment need to be addressed, threats properly managed and past degradation rectified. Adaptive planning is required that supports management of the environment at the national and regional (landscape) scale. Government needs to provide clear direction and facilitate and coordinate the contribution of investment from others, especially the private sector, to support the scale of restoration required.
Chapter 9 - Compliance and enforcement
Compliance and enforcement under the EPBC Act is ineffective. A National Environmental Standard for compliance and enforcement is recommended. The Commonwealth should establish an independent Office of Compliance and Enforcement within the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.
Chapter 10 - Data, information and systems
Decision-makers, proponents of development and the community do not have access to the best available data, information and science. There is insufficient capability to understand the likely impacts of the interventions made. Unacceptable information gaps exist, and many protected matters are not monitored. A quantum shift in the quality of data and information including a long-term strategy, standards and clearly assigned responsibility is needed.
Chapter 11 - Environmental monitoring, evaluation and reporting
Effective monitoring, evaluation and reporting of the EPBC Act is essential to achieve improved environmental outcomes and maintain public trust. The recommended Ecologically Sustainable Development Committee should be assigned responsibility for developing a coherent monitoring and evaluation framework for the EPBC Act. Reform is needed to provide a basis for the Commonwealth's national leadership and reporting role, including a revamp of the national State of the Environment report.
Chapter 12 - The reform pathway
The EPBC Act is ineffective and not fit for current or future environmental challenges, and reform is long overdue. A commitment to a clear pathway of staged reform, including substantial legislative changes, is required to achieve the improvements. Continuous, incremental improvement is needed – reform cannot be ‘set and forget’ nor should individual elements from the package of reform be implemented in isolation. Broad reform is needed.
Appendix A - Stakeholders the Reviewer met with
Appendix A to the Final Report provides a list of stakeholders that met with the Reviewer. Separate lists are provided for participants in a consultative group convened by the Review to test proposed reforms, and stakeholders who provided specific input into the recommended National Environmental Standards.
Appendix B - Recommended National Environmental Standards
Appendix B to the Final Report provides the recommended National Environmental Standards developed by the Review. It lists the full suite of National Environmental Standards that should be immediately developed and implemented to provide clear rules and improved decision-making. To accelerate the process, the Review has developed in detail recommended National Environmental Standards for: matters of national environmental significance (MNES); Indigenous engagement and participation in decision-making; compliance and enforcement; data and information.
The list of references for the Final Report of the Independent Review of the EPBC Act.