3.1 - The EPBC Act covers a range of complex policy areas
The original ambition of the EPBC Act for a ‘joined up’, comprehensive environmental framework – one that combined 5 pieces of legislation into one – has not been realised.
The complexity in the Act, and across the broader environmental, heritage and Indigenous cultural protection responsibilities of the Commonwealth, is in part driven by underlying policy complexity. The broad policy areas covered by the Act – environmental approvals, Commonwealth reserves, heritage protection, wildlife trade, and threatened species conservation and recovery – are complex in their own right.
Having multiple policy functions in the one Act makes it challenging to understand how the requirements for these areas operate separately or together. This creates confusion and inconsistency in decisions and limits the effectiveness of the compliance and enforcement function (Box 13). The interrelationships between the different parts of the Act are often not clear, and there can be ambiguity when different parts of the Act are in operation.
In some cases, the complexity of the State and Territory impact assessment and planning processes are equal to or greater than the federal requirements (LCA 2020). EPBC Act complexity is compounded by the way it overlaps and interacts with State and Territory regulatory arrangements.
Harmonisation of State and Territory laws, in concert with an overhaul of the EPBC Act, is a necessary recommitment to key goals of the IGAE of reducing duplication of process and harmonising actions on the environment across all levels of government.