This report highlights that Australia’s key piece of environmental law is fundamentally broken and not equipped to deal with our extinction and climate crises.

In response to the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) report on Referrals, assessments and approvals under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act, James Trezise, Nature Policy Analyst for the Australian Conservation Foundation, said:

“This report is a scathing indictment of the Federal Government’s administration of our national environment law and highlights why we need a stronger law and a new independent regulator.

“Despite five previous audits, the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment has failed in its duty to implement sound regulation to protect Australia’s unique wildlife.

“The Auditor-General found the Department’s regulatory approach is not effective and not proportionate to environmental risk.

“Worryingly for an area of public policy in which commercial interests are constantly trying to influence, the Auditor-General found ‘conflicts of interest are not managed’.

“ACF has raised concerns with the ANAO about the capacity for political interference to shape what should be independent recommendations, such as those relating to the proposal for a marina and apartment complex on an internationally-significant wetland at Toondah Harbour, or the approvals of Adani’s groundwater plan.

“That the Department does not monitor or report, internally or externally, on the efficiency or effectiveness of its regulation of referrals, assessments and approvals is damning.

“The report highlights that the Department has effectively stopped documenting how the decisions it recommends would deliver environmental outcomes.

“It shows how failures of training and internal policy are leading to poor and unlawful decision making and staffing cuts have driven a decline in regulatory performance.

“As highlighted by ACF investigations, the Department has ignored its own offsets policy and cannot map where its biodiversity offsets are, despite these being a key feature of almost every EPBC approval.

“Declining approval timeframes are most likely due to deep cuts to the Department’s budget between 2013 to 2019.

“This audit report highlights that Australia’s key piece of environmental law is fundamentally broken and not equipped to deal with our extinction and climate crises.

“The Act aims to conserve Australia’s rich and unique biodiversity, yet in the 20 years the laws have been in operation, threatened species habitat greater in size than Tasmania has been logged and cleared.

“Australia’s unique native species are being wiped out at a frightening rate. We have the shameful title of being the world leader in mammal extinctions.

“Australian animals that were once considered common – including much-loved animals like koalas and bandicoots – are now in strife in many parts of the country.

“With the Samuel review, the Morrison Government has a rare opportunity to re-set the rules around nature conservation, make sure nature is properly protected – and the law is independently administered – and leave a positive legacy that would last for generations.”

Read ACF’s background brief Six examples of EPBC failure

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Journalists with enquiries may contact Josh Meadows on 0439 342 992. For all other enquiries please call 1800 223 669 or email action@mail.acf.org.au