4.4 - Proposed key reform directions
4.4.1 - Streamline environmental impact assessments conducted by the Commonwealth
The Commonwealth will continue to have a role undertaking environmental impact assessments and approvals for individual projects (see Box 15). To reduce the complexity of the regulatory process, the pathways for assessing proposals should be rationalised. Separate pathways should be provided for high-impact and lower-impact developments, so that the assessment is proportionate to the level of impact on MNES.
It is anticipated that with the proposed reform directions of this Review, the overall caseload of the Department will be reduced over time. National Environmental Standards and regional plans will set clear rules, meaning that proponents will be incentivised to develop projects with acceptable impacts. This will streamline, or indeed avoid the need for any interaction with, the regulatory process. Lower-risk projects that still require assessment could receive approval with standard conditions (see Chapter 3), which would provide proponents with greater certainty.
Similarly, the proposed devolution model incentivises the states and territories to enter into accredited arrangements with the Commonwealth because the overall time frame for project assessment and approval would be expedited.
Proposed reforms to information, data and regulatory systems will deliver further streamlining, by providing a single source of truth for environmental information, a modern interface for interactions on the EPBC Act, and an efficient system for case management (see Chapter 6).
Box 15 - Pathways for a development proposal
No Commonwealth assessment or approval required—if:
1) A project can demonstrate that it meets the National Environmental Standards. These projects should be registered and include sufficient information to demonstrate due diligence that the scope and impacts of the project are consistent with the Standard.
2) A project can demonstrate that it is consistent with an approved regional plan. These projects should be registered and include sufficient information to demonstrate due diligence that the scope and impacts of the project are consistent with the Standard.
3) A project is assessed and/or approved under an accredited state or territory system.
Commonwealth assessment and approval required—if:
1) A state or territory system is not accredited (or a project is not assessed under an accredited system).
2) A project cannot demonstrate that it meets the National Environmental Standards.
3) A project occurs on Commonwealth land (and cannot demonstrate that it meets National Environmental Standards).
4) A project is ‘called in’ by the Commonwealth Environment Minister for assessment and approval.
5) A project is referred to the Commonwealth Environment Minister for a decision by state, territory or another Commonwealth agency.
Note: State or territory approval may still be required in some of these cases.
4.4.2 - Improving the efficiency of wildlife permits and trade
The EPBC Act should be amended to clearly delineate between different international obligations arising from Appendix I and II of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species listings. This would allow Australia to meet its international obligations under the Bonn Convention and continue to manage and protect migratory species domestically. To do this, Part 13 of the Act could be modified to allow the take of Appendix II listed species subject to all relevant management arrangements demonstrating that the take would not be detrimental to the survival of the species.
In the short-term, the Review proposes that reforms to wildlife trade permitting arrangements should be made to align the EPBC Act with current CITES requirements. Long-overdue amendments to streamline permitting processes should also be pursued. In the longer-term wildlife trade provisions should be reformed to align regulatory effort proportionate to risk and conservation benefit.