The Morrison government has taken a small first step in reforming Australia’s national environment law, but the bill introduced to parliament today fundamentally ignores recommendations from the recent Samuel Review that would stop extinctions.

The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) has welcomed the introduction of the legislation, which includes a framework for national environmental standards and a new standards assurance commissioner, but warned of key flaws in the bill.

“We welcome the government’s small first step toward reforming our national environment law, but the bill tabled today fundamentally fails to deliver what Professor Graeme Samuel recommended in his once-in-a-decade review,” said CEO Kelly O’Shanassy.

Ms O’Shanassy said the bill would not fix the problems with the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act, which the Samuel Review found was ‘ineffective’ and ‘not fit to address current or future environmental challenges’.

“The government’s appointed reviewer, Professor Samuel, provided the government with a clear reform pathway to turn around the escalating extinction crisis.

“Half measures and cherry-picking one or two of Professor Samuel’s recommendations will only push unique, much-loved wildlife like the koala closer to extinction.

“The framework for standards is welcome, but the government’s proposed interim standards, as reported in the media earlier this month, are weak and would lock in the extinction crisis.

“We welcome the introduction of an assurance commissioner, but the model put forward is a toothless tiger. The commissioner would have no staff, no power to investigate proposed projects and would have to ask for resources from the department.

“These flaws must be fixed before the government pursues its Streamlining Environmental Approvals Bill, otherwise fast-tracked project approvals will simply fast-track extinction.”

The bill ignores Professor Samuel’s recommendation for an independent compliance and enforcement office even though since 2010 just 22 infringement notices have been issued with total fines of less than $230,000.  

ACF analysis has revealed that only 10% of the koala habitat cleared in NSW and Queensland between 2012 and 2017 was even assessed by the federal government.

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