Submission made in response to the June 2020 Interim Report of the EPBC Act Review
Note: Responses were automatically limited to 255 characters unless otherwise indicated
NATIONAL LEVEL PROTECTION AND CONSERVATION OF THE ENVIRONMENT AND ICONIC PLACES
Legally enforceable National Environmental Standards should be the foundation for effective regulation. The Standards should focus on outcomes for matters of national environmental significance, and the fundamentally important processes for sound and efficient decision-making. Standards will provide certainty—in terms of the environmental outcomes the community can expect from the law, and the legal obligations of proponents.
Strongly agree. We have seen too many times that our ecological and cultural inheritance in Australia is treated with disdain and purely in terms of extractive or exploitative rationales. Not for its intrinsic value to the community both nationally and globally.
The goal of the EPBC Act should be to deliver ecologically sustainable development. The Act should require that National Environmental Standards are set and decisions are made in a way that ensures it is achieved. The Act should support a focus on protecting (avoiding impact), conserving (minimising impact) and restoring the environment.
Strongly agree. We have been witness or in fact as a national actively involved in resource based exploitation in Australia on a grand scale. It is unsustainable at this critical time when fossil fuel extraction is threatening global security.
A greater focus on adaptive planning is required to deliver environmental outcomes. Regional plans should be developed that support the management of cumulative threats and set clear rules to manage competing land uses at the right scale.
Strongly agree. Our economy is completely unbalanced in terms of land use. We need to value diversity and sustainability and to bring land users into balance where wilderness and wild places for our native flora and fauna are highly valued as a significant part.
Strategic national plans should be developed for big-ticket, nationally pervasive issues such as the management of feral animals or adaptation of the environment to climate change. These plans should guide the national response and enable action and investment by all parties to be effectively targeted and efficient.
Strongly agree. Planning to handle and act to mitigate climate change impacts is urgent and essential by a socially and culturally responsible society. These plans to deal with these issues need to include feral animal impacts and rising temperatures impacts.
INDIGENOUS CULTURE AND HERITAGE
The National Environmental Standards should include specific requirements relating to best practice Indigenous engagement, to enable Indigenous views and knowledge to be incorporated into regulatory processes.
Strongly agree. Time and time again we have seen Indigenous knowledge and input being ignored overlooked and in the case of culture places actively destroyed, as per recent Rio blowing up of world heritage valued Aboriginal sites. We need strong binding honourable laws.
The national level settings for Indigenous cultural heritage protection need comprehensive review. This should explicitly consider the role of the EPBC Act in providing protections. It should also consider how comprehensive national level protections are given effect, including how they interact with the development assessment and approval process of the Act.
Strongly agree. In light of the recent blowing up of the Aboriginal sites, world heritage listed by a multinational mining company supposedly acting legally. This is an internationally shameful situation and reeks of institutionalised racism.
Indigenous knowledge and western science should be considered on an equal footing in the provision of formal advice to the Environment Minister. The proposed Science and Information Committee should be responsible for ensuring advice incorporates the culturally appropriate use of Indigenous knowledge.
Strongly agree. This is long overdue. The longest surviving culture in the world needs respect and equal respect with mainstream or Western science; so much knowledge has been lost because of this cultural ignorance and disrespect on our part. This needs fixing.
Where aligned with their aspirations, transition to Traditional Owners having more responsibility for decision-making in jointly managed parks. For this to be successful in the long term there is a need to build capacity and capability, so that joint-boards can make decisions that effectively manage risks and discharge responsibilities.
Strongly agree. This is well known; without due respect and responsibility all good intentions are meaningless. Joint decision making is the minimum to move forward and offer genuine opportunity.
Improved outcomes for Indigenous Australians will be achieved by enabling co-design and policy implementation.
Strongly agree. Thus has been proven in the hand full of examples where it exists - including joint management of significant national parks such as Uluru and others.
The role of the Indigenous Advisory Committee should be substantially recast as the Indigenous Knowledge and Engagement Committee, whose role is to provide leadership in the co-design of reforms and advise the Environment Minister on the development and application of the National Environmental Standard for Indigenous engagement.
Strongly agree. So important that any reforms are negotiated with Indigenous voices in a way that acknowledges Indigenous Knowledge.
In the short-term, legislative amendments to the EPBC Act are required to address known inconsistencies, gaps, and conflicts in the Act.
In the longer-term, a comprehensive redrafting of the Act (or related Acts) is required. This should be done following the development of the key reforms proposed by this Review. This sequencing will ensure that legislation is developed in a way that supports the desired approach, rather than inadvertently hindering it.
Redrafting could include consideration of dividing the Act—such as creating separate pieces of legislation for its key functional areas.
EFFICIENCY - REMOVING DUPLICATION
Devolve decisions to other jurisdictions, where they demonstrate National Environmental Standards can be met.
To base devolution on sound accreditation, quality assurance and compliance, escalation (including step-in capability) and regular review.
Assessment pathways should be rationalised and implemented with clear guidance, modern systems and appropriate cost recovery. Small investments can dramatically reduce cost and uncertainty and improve decision-making.
These, and other reform directions proposed (National Environmental Standards, regional plans, information and data, modern regulatory systems) create opportunities for significant streamlining and efficiency, including where low risk actions will not require approval.
Streamline provisions for permitting of wildlife trade and interactions with other environmental frameworks.
TRUST IN THE EPBC ACT
Improve community participation in decision-making processes, and the transparency of both the information used and the reasons for decisions.
Provide confidence that decision-makers have access to the best available environmental, cultural, social and economic information.
Amend the settings for legal review. While retaining extended standing, provide for limited merits review for development approvals. Legal challenges should be limited to matters of outcome, not process, to reduce litigation that does not have a material impact on the outcome.
DATA, INFORMATION AND SYSTEMS
A national ‘supply chain’ of information is required so that the right information is delivered at the right time to those who need it. This supply chain should be an easily accessible ‘single source of truth’ on which the public, proponents and governments can rely.
To deliver an efficient supply chain, a clear strategy is needed so that each investment made contributes to building and improving the system over time.
A custodian for the national environmental information supply chain is needed. The Commonwealth should clearly assign responsibility for national level leadership and coordination. Adequate resources should be provided to develop the systems and capability that is needed to deliver the evidence base for Australia’s national system of environmental management.
A National Environmental Standard for information and data should set clear requirements for the provision of data and information in a way that facilitates transparency and sharing. The standard should apply to all sources of data and information, including information collected by proponents.
To apply granular standards to decision-making, Government needs the capability to model the environment, including the probability of outcomes from proposals. To do this well, investment is required to improve knowledge of how ecosystems operate and develop the capability to model them. This requires a complete overhaul of existing systems to enable improved information to be captured and incorporated into decision-making.
MONITORING, EVALUATION AND REPORTING
A coherent framework to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the EPBC Act in achieving its outcomes and the efficiency of its implementation should be developed. The framework must be backed by a commitment to its implementation.
A revamp of national SoE reporting should incorporate trend analysis and address future outlooks to provide the foundation for national leadership on the environment.
National environmental economic accounts will be a useful tool for tracking Australia’s progress to achieve ecologically sustainable development (ESD). Efforts to finalise the development of these accounts should be accelerated, so they can be a core input to SoE reporting.
The EPBC Act should require offsets to be considered only when options to avoid and then mitigate impacts have been actively considered, and demonstrably exhausted.
The EPBC Act should require offsets, where they are applied, to deliver protection and restoration that genuinely offsets the impacts of the development, avoiding a net loss of habitat.
The EPBC Act should incentivise investment in restoration, by requiring decision-makers to accept robust restoration offsets, and create the market mechanisms to underpin the supply of restoration offsets.
There are opportunities for government to explore policy mechanisms to accelerate environmental restoration including those to leverage the carbon market, which already delivers restoration, to deliver improved biodiversity in suitable habitat types.
There are opportunities for government to explore policy mechanisms to accelerate environmental restoration including those to co-invest with the philanthropic and private sectors, including funding innovation to bring down the cost of environmental restoration, growing the habitat available to support healthy systems.
COMPLIANCE, ENFORCEMENT AND ASSURANCE
Establish a modern, independent regulator responsible for monitoring, compliance, enforcement and assurance to be a strong cop on the beat.
Strongly agree. Laws can be meaningless without this regulator. It is an essential Part of guaranteeing legislation plays a significant and meaningful role in upholding the law.
Increase the transparency of activities.
Strongly agree. Transparency means the potential for corruption of the law or the system is effectively brought Into check. Without transparency laws and their implementation are severely weakened. The public needs to know to ensure their legitimacy .
Effectively draw on Standards, simplified law, and better systems to increase compliance and simplify enforcement and assurance.
Shift focus toward assurance of devolved decision-making and monitoring, compliance and enforcement of national strategic plans, regional plans, offsets and regeneration.
Provide the regulator with a full suite of modern regulatory monitoring, compliance, enforcement and assurance tools and adequate funding.
Strongly agree. Absolutely essential that the regulator has effective funding to do its job properly.
PROPOSED REFORM PATHWAY
Do you broadly agree with the phased approach proposed by the Review?
BROADER VIEWS (no character limit)
What has been missed?
We need to ensure that climate impacts and carbon emissions be assessed before large-scale projects are given approval.
How could the proposed reform directions be improved?
That the 3 pillars - national standards, an independent regulator and climate change action are the guiding directions.
Are there fundamental shortcomings that would require the Reviewer to rethink?
As long as the above 3 pillars are Locked in - short comings should be overcome.