Chapter 6 - Commonwealth decisions and interactions with other Commonwealth laws
The EPBC Act operates in a way that seeks to recognise other Commonwealth environmental regulatory and management frameworks, including the management of Commonwealth fisheries, Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) and offshore petroleum activities.
As mentioned in Chapter 3, the interplay between the Act and these other frameworks is complex and onerous, which leads to inefficiencies. Often the arrangements are not supported by robust systems and assurance, which can compromise effectiveness in achieving intended environmental outcomes.
The environment does not follow jurisdictional or institutional boundaries and National Environmental Standards should be applied across Australia.
Even with greater accreditation of States and Territories and other parties, the Commonwealth will have an ongoing role in directly assessing and approving some developments. These Commonwealth-led project assessment and approval processes must be as efficient as possible.
The EPBC Act includes requirements for permitting for wildlife trade intended to meet Australia’s international commitments under the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (Bonn Convention) and Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
The wildlife trade provisions in the EPBC Act are inflexible and do not always align with international requirements. In many cases the laws are unnecessarily burdensome but in other cases they are insufficient to deliver on Australia’s commitments.
The key reforms recommended by the Review are:
- Make immediate reforms to Regional Forestry Agreements to ensure environmental protections consistent with the National Environmental Standards, equivalent to those of the EPBC Act, and to provide for effective Commonwealth oversight.
- The Review’s accreditation model (Chapter 7) should be considered for all situations to ensure effective environmental outcomes and to improve efficiency, including for decisions made by other Commonwealth regulators interacting with the EPBC Act.
- A National Environmental Standard should be developed that considers impacts to the whole of the environment for Commonwealth actions and actions impacting on Commonwealth land.
- Assessment pathways should be rationalised and adequate cost-recovery processes implemented to ensure a ‘user pays’ approach to environmental impact assessment.
- Amend wildlife trade provisions to ensure environmental protections are consistent with international obligations. These amendments will improve the effectiveness and efficiency of these provisions, including by enabling proportionate compliance and enforcement responses, and reducing instances where wildlife permitting could be subject to abuse by applicants.