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Deidre Stuart

Some have argued that past changes to the EPBC Act to add new matters of national environmental significance did not go far enough. Others have argued it has extended the regulatory reach of the Commonwealth too far. What do you think? 

 I think that the regulatory reach of the commonwealth is too small and needs to be extended further and laws greatly strengthened. At the moment it seems that no-one and no level of government takes ultimate responsibility for the destruction of our environment that we are witnessing. As an Australian citizen I am ashamed and angry at state and commonwealth politicians passing the buck on very environmentally damaging projects. IF the intent of the Act is to protect the environment and conserve biodiversity then it is failing. The reach of the Act is inadequate.

Three examples to illustrate:

From my searches of the current EPBC Act, it seems it does not in any way mention or address climate change. It seems that despite scientific knowledge and awareness of climate change having existed for at least 30 years, that the EPBC Act in its inception and subsequent review overlooked it. Yet climate change, caused by human activities, is the most profound problem that our wonderful earth environment faces globally. Nothing is unaffected. As humans we need to profoundly change the way materials and energy flow through our societies. We need to change the ways we consume resources and produce wastes to recognise that the earth is finite and derives energy from the sun. So all our processes need to mimic that and be designed with renewable energy sources and closed material loops (ie circular economy). Otherwise we humans will continue to impact our environment and ultimately lead to the demise of many species, and likely catastrophic human population collapse brought on by collapse of the fundamental ecosystems on which we rely. I note that based on the 2016 year, Australians had higher emissions than 90 % of countries and had the seventh highest emissions per capita (ref 1). Further, that year, as a country we ranked third after Russia and Saudi Arabia for export of fossil fuel CO2e emissions potential (ref 1). SO as a country, a developed country at that, we have a lot of scope and responsibility to much do more to address climate change. Moreover, climate change is relevant to Australia's environmental international obligations which are managed at a commonwealth level. I believe national oversight and regulations/standards across states/territories are required if we are to have any hope at all in limiting the extent of global warming, and coordinating and doing our bit here in Australia. Climate change needs to be in this national law, as well as considered in other national laws. Any new law needs to include a price on carbon, and needs to provide or allow for incentives for shifts to low-carbon or renewable initiatives.

Any new and revised EPBC Act needs to call for an immediate end to ALL fossil fuel development. This means, all current coal, oil, gas developments are not allowed further expansions. This also means, no new fossil fuel projects. This also means, an end also to fossil fuel exploration licences. This also means an end to all fossil fuel subsidies. This is the kind of thing that has to be mandated at a national level otherwise each state/territory will consider it the other's responsibility to stop such developments but not theirs. Every develop proposal seems to say they only contribute a little. But cumulatively Australia is a world leader for export of fossil-fuel CO2e emissions. Mandating an end to expanded or new fossil fuel development makes it simple and clear -no corporation then wastes their time and money on fossil fuel development applications.
A requirement to stop mining (and combusting or exporting) fossil fuels, proposed above, is consistent with the action required to limit global warming to under 1.5 deg C (ref 2). The IPCC 2018 Special Report (ref 2) found that even GHG emission reductions promised under the Paris Agreement would not limit warming to under 1.5 deg C. In that report, scientific models allowing no or limited overshoot of 1.5 deg C, demonstrated that global anthropogenic CO2e emissions would need to decline by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net zero around 2050. Australia is not on track to achieve its much more limited Paris Agreement targets, let alone contribute as it should to larger and faster reductions indicated as necessary above. This scares me. I am afraid for my family and for others as well as for our environment. Australia has much to gain from becoming a leader on climate action rather than lagging far behind. 

Water and forests provide immense ecosystem and human societal services. But over recent decades they have been utterly mismanaged in Australia. The Murray Darling Basin Plan as an example, has seen water theft and corruption, and states/territories squabbling. Commonwealth oversight and management is needed. Water catchments and river systems do not subscribe to human-made state/territory boundaries. And ecosystems and species downstream which are often at risk of depletion of water or pollution caused by humans upstream, have as much right to existence as any where else or upstream. Further they provide ecosystem services with benefits not confined to their own locality. Forests are similar to water in this regard. Both are crucial to human and other life as we know it on this earth and their benefits extend far beyond their geographical location. For this reason they need be rigorously accounted for and protected within our country at the most comprehensive level (i.e. nationally).

ref 1: T. Swann (2019) High Carbon from a Land Down Under. The Australia Institute. Accessed 01/09/2019 from:…

ref 2: IPCC (2018) Summary for Policymakers. In: Global Warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report on the impacts
of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of
strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty
[Masson-Delmotte, V., P. Zhai, H.-O. Pörtner, D. Roberts, J. Skea, P.R. Shukla, A. Pirani, W. Moufouma-Okia, C. Péan, R. Pidcock, S.
Connors, J.B.R. Matthews, Y. Chen, X. Zhou, M.I. Gomis, E. Lonnoy, T. Maycock, M. Tignor, and T. Waterfield (eds.)]. In Press.
Accessed 03/09/2019 from:

How could the principle of Ecologically Sustainable Development (ESD) be better reflected in the EPBC Act? For example, could the consideration of environmental, social and economic factors, which are core components of ESD, be achieved through greater inclusion of cost benefit analysis in decision making? 

I think the ESD principles within the Act are limited and could be more comprehensive. IT would be helpful if their meanings were more fully expanded upon to aid people in making decisions. For example, what does/should 'long-term' mean - 10 or 200 years or 1000 years, some minimum time length? Impacts on what groups of people should be considered in 'equitable' - next generations, Australian indigenous peoples, the Australian poorest people (25%), the world's poorest peoples? In my opinion, 'equitable' should consider all of the above. 

What I have observed is that current cost-benefit analyses used in decision-making are very biased. So I do not think that inclusion of more cost-benefit analyses in decision-making will improve environmental outcomes - unless there is REAL INDEPENDENCE AND THOROUGHNESS in who crafts the cost-benefit analyses and then thorough review on top of that. My experience with numerous coal mining modification/expansion proposals (e.g. Wollongong Coal Ltd proposals, NSW) and various other matters has clearly demonstrated to me that coal mining proposals cost-benefit analyses are remarkably biased, and yet many have been simply accepted by the NSW planning department. Bias can exist in the scopes of matters included or excluded from consideration as costs/benefits. Expert reports used in proposal assessments should be commissioned by institutions independent of the proponent. 

IF cost benefit analyses are included more in decision-making then environmental and social costs and benefits need to be more truly captured. Cost-benefit analyses that I get to read (of recent years this has been limited to NSW mining contexts), are based on current costs of goods/services which have themselves externalised many social/environmental costs. This just perpetuates the environment-destroying status quo. 

From my perspectives as an applied scientist and a community member, it seems that development proposals are assessed supposedly against government-defined ESD principles and then allowed/not allowed to proceed with/without modifications and conditions. Sometimes during the assessment process, there is a comparison by involved experts of proposal components to other alternative components. But rarely a comparison of the whole proposed development within its large social/economic/environmental context to alternative broad developments that would be required to exist within a larger pre-considered desirable social/economic/environmental context. The ESD assessment is so after-the-fact. To get good environmental (and economic, social) outcomes, ESD aspects need to be inherently part of the ecological engineering/planning design, at the beginning. They won't happen by accident. And they won't be achieved by approving developments with little patches stuck on top. Perhaps rather than relying so much on cost-benefit analyses, proposals should be assessed according to the processes that went into their original concept. There should be a requirement for design for long-term and equitable ecological, social and economic benefit at concept inception - and proponents would likely by submitting their proposal in response to some identified social need developed within an ESD context.

Should the objects of the EPBC Act be more specific? 

YES. And they should be worded much more strongly.

The Act's current objects at first glance seem good to me. But on second reading I find the some of the Act's current objects to be very strangely worded - maybe because I am not a lawyer. For example the first object "(a) to provide for the protection of the environment, especially those aspects of the environment that are matters of national environmental significance". Could this be extended to "To protect the environment" AND "To provide environmental protection in the context of MNES through direct oversight and controls, but also through setting and defining national standards and duties that need to be upheld by states/territories and also through direction of and oversight of states/territories in their environment protection and biodiversity conservation duties". I think the Act as it currently stands, leaves ultimate responsibility for Australia's declining environmental state on no-one's lap - not the states/territories and not the commonwealth. So it really needs to be strengthened to make it clear that the commonwealth takes ultimate responsibility for our environment (because someone needs to). Similarly, the word "promote" as it currently appears in the objects seems very weak. There could be a shift from a concept of "promote" to concept of "require".

The objects of the Act seem written somewhat from the perspective of how can we exploit our environment the utmost, as if writing the act was an act of ticking boxes off. 
I find that the objects of the Act to be uninspiring and perfunctory. Australian Indigenous peoples have cared for country for more than 60,000 years. I think we need to recognise this Indigenous stewardship in the Act and embed their profound appreciation/knowledge of human-environment interdependencies and of humans as belonging to country rather than country belonging to humans. Humans have duties towards our shared and common environment and that is what I would like the objects to very strongly express, with the role of the commonwealth government to ensure/oversee that all of us fulfill our duties. Can new objects be written from the perspective of how can we live within and care for our environment and in the process care for each other the utmost instead? Can new objects be written in close consultation with Australian Indigenous people? How would they express it?

ADDITIONAL OBJECT (1) Also, given the current state of decline of our environment, in order to be responsible we should include a requirement for ECOLOGICAL RESTORATION as an object within any revised act.

ADDITIONAL OBJECT (2) Any new act should include HUMAN WELLBEING as an object, as this object cannot be achieved while environmental destruction continues as it has been. 

I = PT
The equation above shows that Impact (I) equals the product of Population (P) and Technology (T). T represents the total average impact per person associated with technologies used by people in a society. Impacts arise through use of non-renewable resources or degradation of the environment associated with production of materials and energy (on the input side), or through creation of excessive or toxic or non-degradable materials or energy, also capable of environmental damage (on the output side). 
To reduce our impact on the environment, we can reduce P (population) and/or reduce T (the destructive impacts of our collective societal technology).
I note that as the world's (and Australia's) populations increase and will unlikely fall significantly within the next 50-100 years, the total environmental impact (I) will increase, unless as a society we reduce T. Most of our existing environmentally damaging technologies and associated societal processes were developed a long time ago. We can and must transition our technologies and processes so that T reduces while importantly human wellbeing remains steady or increases. We should strive for wellbeing, to be affluent without being effluent.

Should the matters of national environmental significance within the EPBC Act be changed? How? 

 The MNES should be expanded upon.

At least include:
(1) Climate change
(2) Policy ban on all future fossil fuel expansions or new developments 
(3) Remediation of mining impacted sites (mandatory, security of cost arrangements/ protections)
(4) Water Management & Protections
(5) Forest Management & Protections
(6) Environmental duties on companies 
(7) Environmentally responsible standards for goods available for purchase in Australia or for important into Australia. E.G. (1) food packaging: standard-make limited set of types of glass bottles and plastic bottles and other food containers so that instead of "recycling" them through council recycling schemes where they are shipped overseas or not recycled at all, or returning them for a small fee to be "recycled", these things instead are returned for a large fee and cleaned and re-used. (e.g. Denmark had such restrictions back in 1998, so a six-pack of Carlsberg beer cost about 25 Krona and when returned the bottles, you got 18 krona back and the bottles were washed and re-used. At that time, each bottle was used on average 39 times prior to being broken and then being melted and recycled - saving energy! The return fee reflected real environmental cost. I never saw a discarded bottle in six months of living in Denmark - and yet here in Wollongong I am regularly picking up bottles and other trash off our beautiful beaches, trying to protect marine wildlife). E.G. (2) Technology items could be required to come with very long-term warranties and with comprehensive user-repair manuals. Laws need to make intended obsolescence for technical goods a thing of the past too; and incorporate design for dismantling and re-use.
(8) Standards for everyday purchased "services", e.g. how can they be mandated to encourage for example active transport modes or use of public transport over private car? 

I have read through the Australian Panel of Experts on Environmental Law (see and their well considered reform proposals seem comprehensive. Everything that I have read of theirs makes sense. I would support changes to MNES as advocated by APEEL.

Which elements of the EPBC Act should be priorities for reform? For example, should future reforms focus on assessment and approval processes or on biodiversity conservation? Should the Act have proactive mechanisms to enable landholders to protect matters of national environmental significance and biodiversity, removing the need for regulation in the right circumstances? 

I think the EPBC Act should shift from focusing on processes for assessing projects to focusing on delivering strong environmental outcomes and optimising human wellbeing. Then working back from there, what things (policies, developments, standards) are currently (or we expect in the future to be) consistent or inconsistent with these strong environmental outcomes. 

At the very least we need to plan and protect/enhance at bioregional or landscape levels to avoid the cumulative fragmenting problems caused by project-by-project assessment processes. 

At the very least we also need reform across other legislation to impose environmental duties on company directors and the like.

Also, climate change is completely missing! This needs to be addressed URGENTLY, ideally with new amended legislation and regulations crafted independently of the politicians.

What high level concerns should the review focus on? For example, should there be greater focus on better guidance on the EPBC Act, including clear environmental standards? How effective has the EPBC Act been in achieving its statutory objectives to protect the environment and promote ecologically sustainable development and biodiversity conservation? What have been the economic costs associated with the operation and administration of the EPBC Act? 

Review should focus on REFORMS to laws and creation of new institutions that are independent-of-government and well funded to undertake their vital work. See recommendations.

The EPBC Act gets a fail. It seems to me as an Australian citizen that the EPBC Act has not been effective (has not lived up to its name!), based on various State of the Environment Reports over time, and also based on the lack of policy in energy and climate change contexts (and Australia's increasing GHG emissions). 

I am not sure what the economic costs associated with the operation and administration of the EPBC Act are, but I am sure that the economic costs associated with its failures to date are many orders of magnitude larger and growing. Our society currently externalises many environmental and social costs, but these costs are real, and finally, slowly becoming evident to people in the current bushfire crisis. Moreover, what is unfair and inconsistent with ESD, is that it is frequently less advantaged people who bear the costs of environmental devastation but they have derived little or none of the economic benefits associated with damaging developments along the way. 

IT seems to me that insurance companies for example, have long had to deal with increasing costs associated with extreme weather events brought on by climate change. These costs are ultimately paid for by Australians. 

We could do things a lot smarter and internalise environmental and social costs upfront.

What additional future trends or supporting evidence should be drawn on to inform the review?

I think the key reports outlined in the discussion paper are a good start. However, a future trend that will be required, rather than one that is anticipated in those reports (I imagine), is that as a society we work much more collectively towards a common good. Corporations need to do their parts. And at a smaller level, each individual needs to do their part. How will that come about in Australia?

Years ago, Australia led the world in relation to tobacco and smoking. IT took laws/regulation (and enforcement? or the threat of enforcement?) to shift human behaviour. Now, as well as being illegal, it is socially unacceptable to light up your cigarette in many places. Cigarettes are also very expensive in Australia. Brandless packages now have confronting images. These changes have achieved a massive societal good. People realise that they do not need to smoke to enjoy a good life, and fewer people take up smoking in the first place. [And yes, the tobacco industry did not like the changes but a good government governs for its people not for particular industry groups]. 

We must do the same related to the environment. People do not need to over-consume to have a good life and a sense of wellbeing. My limited understanding of psychological literature suggests that get people to change their behaviour and then their minds will follow (rather than the other way around). People often talk about educating people to solve such environmental problems and schools are charged with education around sustainability. But informed educated individuals still often make poor or careless environmental choices. There may be ignorance or lack of education to some extents, but really it is much more like social pressure (or seeking social status), thoughtlessness and not having to think or care, or that people have not made the connection between their own behaviours and environmental degradation that they might express concern about. Also, as individuals we are bombarded with environmentally unfriendly but very tempting cheaper, or more convenient options (food, transport etc). It is hard work and impossible to be disciplined or ethical all the time. Removing environmentally-destructive 'easy' options has got to be part of what effective environmental governance achieves.

There is also another aspect. It seems to me that in Australian society, existing systems encourage us to consume things at a rampant rate, rather than to purchase/exchange services (such as repair, renovation services). Since it is us humans who are destroying our environment, it is us humans who need to change our behaviours. We need environmental governance reforms that will sever the perceived link between quality of life and consumption of things. Our economy likely will need to shift from being based on materials to being based on services (renewable energy driven, circular economy).

A trend that is likely captured in reports is that Australians are very digitally engaged. There is ample opportunity for distracting entertainment but also opportunity perhaps for development of awareness and effective collaborative action - both provided by digital media. How can/should this be recognised?

It seems to me that in times of war, Australians have pulled together and embraced/accepted a healthy connected responsible frugality. There were rules and rations in such times presumably. There was conscription of people to fight and others to work in certain industries. This is a different situation but the devastation of our environment is a national and international emergency no less than the world wars. Global warming presents a significant national security threat and we need to take the potential impacts on global security seriously (ref 1). We need similar approaches now to turn around our environment, and Australia's environmental governance (laws and institutions) need to provide for that. 

Ref 1: Guardian Australia (2017) Australia warned it has radically underestimated climate change security threat. Ben Doherty. Accessed 11/02/2020 from… 

Should the EPBC Act regulate environmental and heritage outcomes instead of managing prescriptive processes?

Perhaps it should do both. But definitely should regulate some clear environmental and heritage outcomes at least.

I think it will cut a lot of regulatory tape if there are simply some very strong environmental protection rules (i.e. regulated outcomes) laid down plainly and clearly. Example 1. No more new or expanded fossil fuel development anywhere in Australia could be a regulated outcome. Cannot get much clearer than this. 
Example 2. Some form of carbon price and incentive scheme are also needed for us to transition to a low-carbon economy - also could be regulated outcomes.

Getting something done properly the first time rather than having to redo something (e.g. think development applications, Australian NBN, poorly constructed buildings in Sydney) requires that there is adequate oversight. It seems to me from my experiences that adequate and appropriate oversight is often missing. It is so important. But equally important, I believe there should be a disincentive to people submitting very poor quality development applications. It should not be the job of government (local/state/national), and/or when these fail to perform their oversight duties properly, it should not be the job of unpaid community members to point out all the deficiencies of poor applications. If an application is not good, then the proponent should be banned from making any further similar applications for at least 5 years or some deterring period appropriate to the proposed development type size. Corporations/proponents should be required to demonstrate that their proposal conforms to BEST/HIGHEST ENVIRONMENTAL PRACTICE and has incorporated ESD thinking at inception planning/design stages. Community and local/state/national planning assessors should not have to waste their time on applications where developers are trying to get through the poorest complying (or even not complying) proposal. 

Oversight and compliance is also required during development after any approval/consenting processes and in my awareness of Wollongong Coal Ltd operations at Russell Vale Colliery, these have been seriously missing - on the parts of both local and state government. And this has led to pollution of local creeks, water losses, lack of bonds being paid by the mining company, illegal emplacements. Having witnessed more than 5 years of NSW planning approvals in the context of mining by Wollongong Coal Ltd, I realise that approval conditions mean nothing unless actively independently monitored and with harsh penalties applying for noncompliance. There have to be institutions that are adequately funded and staffed, and empowered to do this properly.

Should the EPBC Act position the Commonwealth to take a stronger role in delivering environmental and heritage outcomes in our federated system? Who should articulate outcomes? Who should provide oversight of the outcomes? How do we know if outcomes are being achieved?

YES, I think the EPBC Act should position the Commonwealth to take a much stronger role in delivering environmental and heritage outcomes in our federated system.

Community should articulate outcomes. And by this, I do not mean only lobbyists or people in the know. Engagement of community to articulate outcomes should not be left to a haphazard process like this one (which most people will not know about) for the review of the EPBC Act. 

Oversight of the outcomes must be done by institutions independent of government. For example by a Commonwealth Environment Commission as proposed by the APEEL (see ) accompanied by a Commonwealth EPA (for enforcement) and a Commonwealth Environmental Auditor (to check on CEC & EPA) and a Commonwealth Environment Investment Commission (who will manage the money and ensure these each have funds to do their jobs properly). Unfortunately I do not trust that federal Australian government ministers will do their jobs adequately or fulfill community expectations around fairness and transparency. Importantly, I think also that degradation of our environment is very strongly linked to political corruption and until political corruption is overcome with much stronger anti-corruption measures, then environmental disregard will likely continue. So perhaps there is a need also for the EPBC Act review to push for broad federal anti-corruption measures as well as for specific federal anti-corruption measures in how people might be appointed to any independent-of-government environmental institutions. Oversight of the outcomes needs to be done in a way that restores faith and confidence of ordinary people like me. 

We will know if outcomes are being achieved because relevant data available online and in a timely process will tells us so. Australia will be reducing its GHG emissions quickly. Critically threatened species will get plans developed for their recovery and these plans will get funded and implemented, and some of these species (instead of none) will make it off the list without going extinct. Australia's forests will expand. Indigenous people will be celebrating their cultural heritage in country instead of mourning further losses. Individually we will all be being called on to do our part, and can do it, have the benefits of doing it relayed back to us somehow though online updates. State of the Environment reports will frankly be less dismal! 

Should there be a greater role for national environmental standards in achieving the outcomes the EPBC Act seeks to achieve? In our federated system should they be prescribed through:

  • Non-binding policy and strategies? 
  • Expansion of targeted standards, similar to the approach to site contamination under the National Environment Protection Council, or water quality in the Great Barrier Reef catchments? 
  • The development of broad environmental standards with the Commonwealth taking a monitoring and assurance role? Does the information exist to do this?

YES, I think there should be a greater role for national environmental standards to achieve objects of the act. 

DOTPOINT-1: I would prefer as many BINDING rather than non-binding policy and strategies be incorporated where possible, else exception after exception will be made, leaving community wondering what was the point of having a policy/strategy in the first place. 

DOTPOINT-2: Not sure.

DOTPOINT-3: The development of broad environmental standards appeals to me and there needs to be some commonwealth monitoring and assurance role. Please see APEEL for more considered comments.

How can environmental protection and environmental restoration be best achieved together?   

YES. The EPBC Act should have a focus on restoration as well as protection.

YES, the EPBC Act, and associated revised laws/institutions should include incentives for proactive environmental protection. To my way of thinking, proactive environmental protection needs to become the status quo and part of living and doing business, rather than an extra where we seek some reward on top. However, we as a society need to shift our perspective and actions to such a state and incentives will likely be needed at different times to support required transitions. In relation to addressing climate change it would be helpful to provide incentives to support low-carbon and renewable energy initiatives in industries (e.g. making steel manufacture without coking coal). 

Our whole approach and philosophy around environmental governance has to change to be more in line with Indigenous caring for and connection to country.

Are heritage management plans and associated incentives sensible mechanisms to improve? How can the EPBC Act adequately represent Indigenous culturally important places? Should protection and management be place-based instead of values based?

I think that some protection and management should be place-based. IF they are left as values based, then whose values get considered and incorporated into decisions? Who gets to decide what is significant or not significant etc?

I do not understand the current risk-based approach to heritage. For example, why, how, can the NSW government (Planning) even accept and then exhibit the massively destructive longwall coal mining expansion proposal at Dendrobium colliery (South32) last year? There is no secret in that proposal that it will cause huge subsidence, fracturing etc and damage (possible destruction) to ecologically threatened upland swamp systems, if permitted to go ahead. Moreover, a risk-based approach was taken to the Indigenous Heritage Assessment. A summary of (taken from the POWA online submission) is as follows: 

" POWA further notes that the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Assessment based on records and on a physical survey of only 6.91 % of the affected area, identified 58 Aboriginal heritage sites, including six new sites, in the area likely to be affected by longwall mining in Area 5 and Area 6. These are mostly rock shelters with/without art and deposits, and axe grinding groove sites located in creeks. All sites have profound cultural significance. The report identified six as having high scientific significance as well. Many of these sites date back 2000 years and testify to the lives of Tharawal peoples who distinguished themselves as Fresh, Bitter or Salt Water people. These sites
and related knowledge are understandably so precious to living Indigenous Australians that much information about them is not included in the public report. The report acknowledges that all sites are potentially subject to subsidence effects. Previous experience suggests that one in ten rock based sites will be impacted. This poses the destruction of indigenous cultural landscapes: rock shelters may collapse, and even if they avoid being directly broken, axe grinding groove sites might no longer receive surface water stream flow to work. This is not acceptable. Modern Australians
are the beneficiaries of more than 60,000 years of caring for country by Indigenous Australians. We need to acknowledge our deep debt to them, and show more respect than to risk the destruction potential associated with this Dendrobium proposal." (ref 1)

The Dendrobium proposal is an example of the risk-based approach to heritage and environment. It seems to me that the approach is that we have massive degradation or destruction currently and then proposals for the future compare against the very poor current state, and offer some very minor relative benefit, and appear to be relatively not so bad. But this is a false framing and an appearance of doing something when you are allowing ongoing damages. This ends up not being environmental protection or heritage protection at all, but instead, merely rather slower destruction - death by a thousand cuts rather than one cut. Moreover, whose values ultimately get expressed in decisions made by panels or planning in these processes? Planning departments and Planning Ministers (e.g. NSW) and "Independent Planning Commissioners" do not necessarily represent values or mindsets of the community at large. For example, are there any Indigenous people on IPC panels? Are all IPC members technocrats (or mining engineers or mining consultants) as all in my experience have been? 

Does protection and management have to be place-based OR values-based? Can it not be both? At the very least, whole regions and landscapes need to be protected and managed at that larger scale to avoid the cumulative negative impacts of individual development proposal assessment and approvals processes.

Ref 1: Protect Our Water Alliance (2019) POWA Submission to South32 Dendrobium Expansion Proposal. Accessed 11/02/2020 from

Should the EPBC Act require the use of strategic assessments to replace case-by-case assessments? Who should lead or participate in strategic assessments?   

I would like to see more use of strategic assessments to replace case-by-case assessments. These should be based on science and underpinned by community values. They should also align with Australia's international commitments.

A very easy such assessment could rule out all future new or expansions of fossil fuel development (and allocation of related exploration licences). Continuing expanding fossil fuel in Australia is contrary to science, contrary to community expectation of action on climate change, and aligns with Australia's international commitments to reduce GHG emissions. 

Strategic assessments need to be done independently of government and APEEL ( provide recommendations for structures for appropriate independent institutions that could participate in this.

Should the matters of national significance be refined to remove duplication of responsibilities between different levels of government? Should states be delegated to deliver EPBC Act outcomes subject to national standards?

I like the idea of states being delegated to deliver EPBC Act outcomes subject to national standards.
I support APEEL ( recommendations related to this.

Should low-risk projects receive automatic approval or be exempt in some way?

  • How could data help support this approach?
  • Should a national environmental database be developed?
  • Should all data from environmental impact assessments be made publicly available?

I am wary about low-risk projects receiving automatic approval or being exempt in some way. Several low-risk (low impact) projects collectively could have significant impacts. Further, proponents will seek to exploit any such system and present their proposals in lots of small pieces, to get them through the system. 

Australia's experiment with ROBODEBT which deals with a much more limited and less complex and less subjective items than what any initial automated environmental assessment process could potentially deal with, has turned out to be a failure. I do not think any automation in the assessment part is appropriate. It would turn out to be even more frustrating to proponents I suspect and would be severely problematic along the way. Automation within data management or updating or monitoring would be helpful yes, but not in the assessment itself.

YES, all data from EIAs should be made publicly available and readily searchable.

Should the Commonwealth’s regulatory role under the EPBC Act focus on habitat management at a landscape-scale rather than species-specific protections?

A very strong YES. Please also note that I support the relevant APEEL recommendations ( WE need to avoid cumulative impacts caused by approvals of lots of supposedly negligible or insignificant impacts.

A point to note- regional forestry agreements and offshore petroleum areas need to be included and also protected in the revised EPBC Act.

The Commonwealth should have responsibility ultimately for conservation, protection and restoration related to all WATER and FORESTs. e.g. Great Artesian Basin and Murray-Darling systems cross state/territory boundaries. Similarly, we need to conserve and protect forests at a national level and this needs commonwealth oversight and management. Also, pests such as feral foxes/deer/horses/toads do not respect state/territory boundaries and management for them needs to be directed nationally.

Should the EPBC Act be amended to enable broader accreditation of state and territory, local and other processes?   

Yes, in line with APEEL ( recommendations.

Are there adequate incentives to give the community confidence in self regulation?

I don't think so.

How should the EPBC Act support the engagement of Indigenous Australians in environment and heritage management?   

  • How can we best engage with Indigenous Australians to best understand their needs and potential contributions?
  • What mechanisms should be added to the Act to support the role of Indigenous Australians?

I am not an expert in engagement with Indigenous Australians. I am also not an Indigenous Australian. But I think it would be very good that a reformed Act would support engagement with Indigenous Australians in environment and heritage management. 

And I think that to enable this to happen, engagement with Indigenous Australians should happen very early and in the redesign stages of the Act so that their collective perspective can be adequately incorporated into the Act's objects. Otherwise, I suspect if the Act is partly reformed and its objects already redefined, and then Indigenous Australians are asked to shape their thinking to fit into some already prescribed shape, then I suspect this will be ineffective and disrespectful. 

Further, I support all of the APEEL ( recommendations related to embracing Indigenous perspectives.

How should community involvement in decision making under the EPBC Act be improved? For example, should community representation in environmental advisory and decision-making bodies be increased?

A comment first: I find that the first statement above immediately under the 4.E. heading - "Australia's environment is a valuable asset" - reflects a problematic mindset. It reflects a mindset of exploitation and separateness, rather than a mindset of mutuality or relationship or obligation or inclusion or of humans being wholly contained within the larger environment. 

Community involvement in decision-making could be improved by;
(1) Taking environmental governance out of the hands of government MPs. 
(2) Setting up an independent-of-government national environment commission that could engage community around setting laws, regulations and standards for Australia. 
(3) Providing timely transparency on all matters related to proposals and developments and then their operations and monitoring. Providing timely transparency related to meetings (and meeting minutes) between any involved assessors or decision-makers and others, so that community can see who might be influencing outcomes.
(4) Providing community with inbuilt rights to information, public participation and access to justice in environmental areas. Within NSW from my experiences, it seems that community rights to justice are quite limited. I understand that once something goes through an IPC (or earlier PAC) hearing and review process then decisions cannot be challenged in court. Yet there does not seem to be any requirement for truthfulness or opportunities for questioning in IPC (PAC) hearings. Also in my experiences decisions come down to values rather than technical matters, yet IPC people tend predominantly to be technical experts. 
(5) Having a national independent-of-government EPA, accessible to community.
(6) Having a national independent-of-government environment fund commission that will collect funds from our economy and use them to ensure adequate funding for monitoring, reporting and regulation. Possibly also for supporting community to 
engage independent experts?

Further comment: In environmental health contexts (as in human health contexts) a long time spent doing nothing (failing to intervene to protect) can lead to devastating outcomes. I do not know what the answer is to this but I do know that as a community member in NSW, I am very concerned and very disappointed that the test case of the "fit and proper person" amendment to Mining Act 1992 / Petroleum (Onshore) Act 1991 legislation is proceeding so slowly. The NSW EDO made a case against Wollongong Coal Ltd in response to expressed community concerns and collated information in 2015 (ref 1) to the NSW resources minister, yet here we are in 2020 and still no decision has been made and no timeframe provided for any decision. Meanwhile during 2019, Wollongong Coal Ltd was allowed to apply for an underground expansion project which was exhibited on the NSW Planning website. I am concerned. The allegations against the majority shareholder of Wollongong Coal Ltd are very serious and include criminal aspects. The Indian man, Mr Ramesh Agrawal, the winner of the 2014 Goldman Environmental Prize (Asia) (ref 2) visited Australia, supported by Lock-the-Gate Alliance. He told local Australian community about Wollongong Coal Ltd's major shareholder - recounting experiences which included the death of a 5 yo Indian girl who died after auto-combusting when she played near illegally company-dumped fly-ash; also his own experiences with the company where at first the company tried to bribe him to keep quiet, then threatened him and his family, and ultimately company security men shot him. Coupled with Wollongong Coal Ltd's own atrocious record of non-compliance with planning approval consents, this information shows this is not a company that should be allowed to dig up coal in a Special Area in Sydney's Water Catchment. Why is this decision taking so long? How can national environmental governance be strengthened to prevent situations like this? There is a need for some third-party who community can ask to intervene and draw something like this to a much more timely and fair resolution. It seems to me that in NSW procedural rights favour development proponents over community - that is unfair and needs to change.

Ref 1: B. Hagemann (2015) Environmental defenders say Wollongong Coal not 'fit and proper person'. Australian Mining. Accessed 11/02/2020 from…

Ref 2: Goldman Environmental Foundation (2020) Ramesh Agrawal 2014 Goldman Prize Recipient Asia. Accessed 11/02/2020 from

What is the priority for reform to governance arrangements? The decision-making structures or the transparency of decisions? Should the decision makers under the EPBC Act be supported by different governance arrangements?

For me priority would go to changing the decision-making structures first but with a requirement on them for accountability and transparency to community.

New decision-making structures:
1. Establish new institutions, independent of government, to protect our environment and conserve our biodiversity and ecosystems. They need to be able to act at arm's length from government and as free as possible from corruption.
2. One new institution should be an independent National Environmental Commission (would oversee climate change actions; would do landscape and bioregional planning; would set societal goals; would set environmental laws and regulations; would set standards; would liaise with states/territories and supply or withhold required funds for environmental actions; likely would undertake timely transparency of decisions).
3. One new institution should be an independent National Environmental Protection Authority (would monitor and uphold and investigate/regulate; timely transparency of environmental monitoring data). 
4. One new institution should be an independent National Environment Investment Commission (would supply money collected through taxation and carbon prices and other avenues to institutions so they can undertake their required tasks).
5. One new institution, an independent National Environmental Auditor that would audit and report on actions of NEC, NEPA, NEIC on yearly basis to ensure appropriate operation and use of their powers. Importantly NEC and NEPA especially need to have adequate powers (and supported by appropriate law reform) to undertake their duties. We do not want a situation as with ASIC or ACCC in recent bank investigation contexts, where institutions have some duties but might for various reasons be unable to either to use their rights or exercise their rights and so fail in their duties.

I support APEEL ( recommendations for environmental governance reform.

Should the Commonwealth establish new environmental markets? Should the Commonwealth implement a trust fund for environmental outcomes?   

The discussion paper discussed offsets in the context of this question. Rather than respond to the questions directly, I express my concerns about the application of offsets.

I think that the offsets concept gets abused. My understanding is that offsets are meant to be applied only to deal with residual impacts that cannot be avoided or mitigated. And offsets are meant to be a like-for-like which gets maintained and protected into perpetuity - this does not reliably happen, possibly does not even frequently happen. Offsets are not meant to be a salve on people's consciences to make them feel better about the damage they do or a rubber-stamp enabling approval of very environmentally damaging proposals.

Offsets are available in air travel - consumers can C-offset their flights and feel better about their travel. If air travel is permitted, why is not all air travel required to be C-offset rather than that passengers can select whether they do or they do not C-offset? C-offset costs should be incorporated into purchase prices of all tickets.

Similarly, as an electricity consumer where I live, I can purchase certified GreenPower electricity or I can purchase other electricity and if I wish, offset the associated C emissions. If renewable energy (certified GreenPower) is available at my home location as it is, then how then can it be unavoidable for me to purchase any other power and offset my C emissions? And in a situation where certified renewable energy is not available, why are C-offsets not obligatory and incorporated into the cost?

Similarly, I have read about offsets proposed in the context of underground coal mining in Special Areas in the Sydney Water Catchment. In these case, the proposals (eg by South32 Dendrobium and Wollongong Coal Ltd Russell Vale) say they will offset threatened upland swamp ecosystems that are found in the Special Areas. But these ecosystems are unique and provide habitat for specific species and communities. The offset concept is nonsensical in this context - as there is nothing comparable elsewhere. That is, it is not possible to implement an offset properly. And even more certainly, proposed offsets, located a long way away from the water catchment, do not provide the water capture, slow release and cleansing ecosystem services that these upland swamps do for humans. These upland swamps, through retaining water, are also natural protective barriers against bushfires. But if broken up and fragmented with water allowed to drain away (as occurs with longwall coal mining), then they die and all of these additional benefits are lost. What is important in this context too is that the proposed devastating impacts caused by mining are completely avoidable - just don't mine for coal there. These coal mines produce thermal coal and coking coal. There are alternatives to thermal coal for energy generation (eg renewable energy). There are alternatives also to coking coal for steel manufacture (eg C-rich wastes, H2 as a reductant, in fact 26% of the world's steel is made without coking coal). So the destruction of these precious upland swamps is completely avoidable, yet, shamefully, has been allowed to occur for many years to date - in pursuit of a product (coal) that is in itself inherently climate damaging.

What do you see are the key opportunities to improve the current system of environmental offsetting under the EPBC Act?

See comments at Q 23 also.

(1) ONLY allow true offsetting where true like for like is possible (eg one tonne CO2 emitted in one location can legitimately be offset by one tonne CO2 taken up in another location).

(2) IF offsetting is going to be allowed, then enforce it: offsetting should then be required for anything that has been done in an environmentally unfavourable way (eg existing coal generated electricity should have whole-of-life associated C and other offsets associated with it).

(3) Offsetting costs have to be incorporated into costs borne by all consumers (rather than optional as in air travel). If offsets are not undertaken by corporations themselves because set up and approved under earlier times, then additional charges on top of those charged by corporations themselves, to cover offsetting should be collected and directed to appropriate offsets by proposed independent national environmental governance institutions. 

(4) DO not allow offsets where they are not truly like for like. I do not find it appropriate or acceptable for a corporation to propose that in return for destroying one ecosystem they would pay maintenance expenses for some other ecosystem somewhere else (but for how long? what rules out that other ecosystem being devastated by some natural calamity?). Ecosystems especially have evolved over long periods and are unique, just like individual children. 

(5) Look at proposals, and if they are proposing offsets due to "unavoidable" impacts, ask the question, does Australia or the world really need that proposal to go ahead at all? How can the societal needs that that proposal presumably addresses, be fulfilled in other ways that avoid completely any need for offsets? Most likely any such proposal alternative will provide longer term environmental, social and economic benefits. Perhaps money needs to be set aside to help transform some aspects of our society to realise this rather than supporting outdated status quo technologies.

Do you have suggested improvements to the above principles? How should they be applied during the Review and in future reform?

(1) The above principles are missing any requirement for accountability to reside at any specific governance level within Australia. I desire a principle of national accountability to be added or incorporated. The buck has got to stop somewhere: too often in the media reports I see federal government ministers blaming state government ministers, or vice versa, for some environmental disaster. That is not good enough. National leadership and accountability is required to get a coordinated effective and comprehensive change and improvement. 

(2) The above principles do not indicate any relative ranking between them. There is absolutely no point having an Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act if it is not effective and does not deliver strong environmental protection and biodiversity conservation outcomes (as in the current situation). So that principle is paramount. Importantly reforms should not be driven by a "reducing green tape" agenda.

(3) Climate change is such a large, urgent and profoundly impacting phenomenon, that there should be an additional principle related to specifically to it. Environmental governance (laws and institutions) need to consider climate change in all decision-making and mandate outcomes to limit the extent of climate change as well as to ensure resilience of our environment, ecosystems and biodiversity in the face of climate change.

(4) Related to the principle "Improving inclusion, trust and transparency": (a) improved governance will require independence of governments and very timely access to data and information; and (b) community (including Indigenous community) need to be given a more central role in decision-making, and their rights to appeal and justice need to be enhanced, rather than reduced. 

Is the EPBC Act delivering what was intended in an efficient and effective manner? - Is the EPBC Act delivering what was intended in an efficient and effective manner?

Absolutely not. The EPBC Act has failed to prevent the following:
(1) That our GHG emissions continue to rise and we are failing to take sufficient action on climate change to meet out international commitments (Paris Agreement) (ref 1), let alone doing the much more that we should do as suggested by the science. 
(2) Political interference which erodes the public’s trust in the EPBC Act itself and in other laws. NSW and federal planning and environmental decisions reek of political interference and corruption to me as a community member. A recent example is the federal ministerial approval of the Adani coal mine groundwater management plans just ahead of the federal election in response to pressure from QLD MPs (ref 2) and despite information the minister had received from Geoscience Australia and CSIRO (ref 3). And this approval in the face of climate change and likely increasing pressures on water, especially in inland Australia. 
(3) That Australia has become the world leader on mammal extinction, and that Australia has the first mammal recognised as made extinct by climate change (the Bramble Cay Melomys) (ref 4).
(4) That 7.7 million hectares of threatened species’ habitat has been destroyed, since the EPBC Act came into operation (ref 5)
(5) That Australia was the only developed nation identified as global deforestation hotspot in 2018 (ref 6). Forests not only provide much needed habitat, but are also provide much needed carbon sequestration in our current climate crisis. 
(6) That the outlook for Australia’s biodiversity is “poor and worsening” according to Australia's own 2016 State of the Environment Report (ref 7).

Moreover, so many Australians are now reporting distress and profound feelings of helplessness related to climate change and environmental impacts even before the recent bushfires (ref 8). I am one of these people. The EPBC Act has not delivered what was intended and it affects us all. Our wellbeing as humans cannot be separated from the wellbeing of our environment on which we rely for everything. The EPBC Act? - not efficient; not effective, just a disaster. PLEASE panel members, help change this situation.

Ref 1: ACF (2019) Australia's National Greenhouse Gas Inventory - pollution levels still on the rise. Accessed 12/02/2020 from…

Ref 2: Hasham (2019) Environment Minister Melissa Price signs off on Adani project. Sydney Morning Herald, 09/04/2019. Accessed 12/02/2020 from…

Ref 3: Murphy & Cox (2019) Coalition approves Adani groundwater plan despite questions over modelling. Guardian Australia 09/04/2019. Accessed 12/02/2020 from…

Ref 4: Commonwealth of Australia (2019) Australia's Faunal Extinction Crisis Interim Report. Accessed 12/02/2020 from…

Ref 5: ACF, WWF, TWS, UQld (nd) Fast Tracking Extinction: Australia's National Environmental Law. A Accessed 12/02/2020 from…

Ref 6: WWF (2018) WWF 2018 Living Planet Report. Accessed 12/02/2020 from

Ref 7: Commonwealth of Australia (2077-2018) Australia State of the Environment 2016. Accessed 12/02/2020 from…

Ref 8: Ward (2019) Climate anxiety is real, and young people are feeling it. Sydney Morning Herald 18/09/2019. Accessed 12/02/2020 from…

How well is the EPBC Act being administered? - How well is the EPBC Act being administered?

The EPBC Act is being administered very poorly - at least, it has not delivered environmental protection and conservation of biodiversity across the board. Australia now is in the midst of a climate warming crisis, an extinction crisis, and a deforestation crisis. 

On its administration:
(1) The EPBC Act is subject to too much political interference. So we need independent institutions to administer it.
(2) Under the current EPBC Act and federal - state/territory agreements, no governance level seems to take final accountability and responsibility for the dire environmental crisis we find ourselves in as a nation. So we need reforms that make the commonwealth of Australia ultimately responsible and empower that to occur properly (powers and funding).
(3) The federal environmental department has been hit heavily by budget cuts leading to extended delays and poor decision making under the EPBC Act. Despite an over 10% increase in total public spending in the three-year period between 2013-2014 to 2016-2017, over the same period across federal/state/territory total public investment in the environment reduced almost 10 % (ref 1). This is not a recipe for protecting our environment and conserving biodiversity. So we need to create governance systems that collect required environmental funds and then these need to be spend wisely and effectively, again administered by an institution independent of government.
(4) It seems to me from my discussions with legal others, that Australia's EPBC Act is only one of more than 70 laws at federal level and many other laws affecting the environment at state/territory levels. This is complex for me as a non-lawyer, but also complex even for legal experts I understand. So there needs to be law reforms across other laws at a national level at least, so that there is more alignment and coherence between all our laws. Particularly, I would like to see reforms that impose very strong clear environmental duties on all corporations and board members. We need broadscale law reform that fundamentally changes how Australians live - as a consumer when I purchase something, it will be designed and provided to fit into environmental limits through consideration and amelioration of all aspects of its lifecycle.

See my responses to earlier questions for more details - I reiterate that I support APEEL ( reform recommendations.

Ref 1: ACF () Background Brief: Environment Spending in Australia. Accessed 12/02/2020 from…

Is the EPBC Act sufficient to address future challenges? Why? - Is the EPBC Act sufficient to address future challenges? Why?

No. It is failing already as discussed earlier. There is no reason to think that identified problems will just magically disappear now.
The biggest future challenge is transitioning our society and economy from being fossil-fuel driven to being a renewable-energy-driven circular economy, so that we can limit the extent of climate change devastation and become resilient in the face of climate change that is already occurring. The EPBC Act is silent on these.

What are the priority areas for reform? - What are the priority areas for reform?

In response I quote the following from The Wilderness Society (ref 1): 

(1) Establish an independent National Environment Commission to ensure we develop a fit-for-purpose, coordinated national (state and federal) system of environmental protections and policy responses necessary to support restoration of our environment to health and ensure regulatory resilience to future impacts, publicly report every year on the impact of conservation action and funding, and show clearly whether natural values are recovering.
(2) Establish a new National Environment Act that enshrines Federal Government leadership over nature protections, contains real safeguards against extinction, including ending the destruction of endangered species habitat, and sets out clear rights of appeal and consultation for communities.
(3) Establish an independent Environment Protection Agency to act as watchdog over the system and ensure our laws are properly enforced.
(4) Ensure that sufficient money and resources are put in place so that nature can recover.
(5) Ensure a central role for community, with guaranteed rights and participation in planning and decision-making.

Ref 1: TWS (2020) Make Your Voice Heard. Accessed 12/02/2020 from…

What changes are needed to the EPBC Act? Why? - What changes are needed to the EPBC Act? Why?

See my responses to earlier questions.
I note however, that while reforms are required for the EPBC Act, other laws should also be reformed. There needs to be coherence across laws in Australia.

Is there anything else of importance to you that you would like the review to consider? - Is there anything else of importance to you that you would like the review to consider?


I strongly support the development of a federal ICAC - with strong powers and large, deterring penalties for transgressors. From my experiences in advocating for the environment now over many years, it seems that powerful corporate interests have again and again been able to corrupt planning and environment governance institutions, processes and systems that are part of administering environmental laws/policies/plans. I am really angry and upset and frustrated by this status quo. The EPBC Act as it stands is mostly well-intended (though with glaring omissions), but it is failing. I fear that any improvements to the Act (or to other federal legislation) will be also subverted unless timely transparency and accountability are given significant focus. I note that in the process of writing this submission, I read in the news that the ACF failed to receive documents requested under Freedom of Information laws from the federal government, when the involved minister repeatedly delayed releasing documents until he resigned as minister, which then voided the FOI request (ref 1). How is this fair? This is not good enough. Ministers should want to share and demonstrate what they are doing with community, rather than for community to have to fight to find out the truth about what is going on! I have mentioned in earlier responses that I endorse APEEL ( recommended environmental governance reforms. And these span more than the EPBC Act. A reform to FOI legislation to remove the loophole described above is one example of other required supporting reforms.

Thank you for reading my submission.

Ref 1: Knaus (2020) Canavan delayed releasing documents about coal lobby interactions before resigning . Guardian Australia. 12/02/2020. Accessed 13/02/2020 from…


Additional information

Supplementary navigation and content


Submission ID
Deidre Stuart


The objects of the Act
International obligations
Indigenous Australians
Matters of National Environmental Significance
Environmental Impact Assessments
Cumulative impacts
Climate Change
Compliance and enforcement
Decision making
Public participation in decision making