Having reviewed documents summarising proposed changes to Australia’s environment law, the Australian Conservation Foundation’s National Biodiversity Policy Adviser Brendan Sydes said:
“Three years to the day since Graeme Samuel delivered to the Morrison government his scathing review of Australia’s environment law, ACF urges the Albanese government to make reform of this law a high priority.
“Today we’ve had a chance to review a selection of the government’s proposed reforms.
“For the first time our national environmental laws will define ‘unacceptable impacts.’ The new environment protection authority will not be able to approve projects that will have unacceptable impacts on, for example, ‘critical protection areas’ for listed threatened species. This is welcome.
“Under the present law some projects that would be so environmentally harmful that approving them should never even be contemplated go through the system and end up being approved with offsets.
“ACF is concerned however that the Minister can call-in and approve projects with unacceptable impacts.
“The information we have seen today confirms the environment protection agency’s key role in the new system.
“An independent regulator should be a real game-changer, taking politics out of the assessment process and leading to stronger environmental protection and more efficient decision-making.
“ACF will be looking for detail to confirm the EPA is independent and free from political interference.
“Climate change, fuelled by coal and gas projects approved under the Act, is a key threat to Australia’s wildlife and places, but we have not yet seen detail about how climate impacts are to be assessed under this law – beyond simply the disclosure of scope 1 and 2 emissions.
“ACF believes all climate impacts, including from emissions that occur overseas when gas and coal from Australia is burnt, need to be taken into account when proposals are assessed.
“It remains unclear whether the proposed National Environmental Standards will be given sufficient legal force to halt the extinction crisis and help threatened species recover.
“Everyone agrees the existing environment law is broken. Nearly 8 million hectares of threatened species habitat in Australia have been destroyed since the law came into effect in 2000 and recent ACF investigations show this destruction is continuing.
“ACF research shows the ineffective law keeps letting many hundreds of thousands of hectares of threatened species habitat be bulldozed without penalty.
“We urge the Albanese government to move quickly to strengthen the Act.”