Australia is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. With such incredible plants, wildlife and ecosystems, we have a vital responsibility to look after them, safeguard the air we breathe, the water we drink and the people and places we love.
But right now, our nature protection system is failing. Our national environment law – the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation or EPBC Act – is weak, outdated and full of holes. It doesn’t even mention the word ‘climate change’. It is failing to protect wildlife, plants and ecosystems at risk. In Australia, our forests are being demolished at the same rate as the Congo and Amazon. In some states, even koalas are under threat. Australia has one of the worst extinction records on Earth.
The Morrison Government’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Standards and Assurance) Bill 2021 put before Parliament in late February is a small first step in improving our national environment laws. But the bill doesn’t do anything to stop extinction – and it fundamentally ignores the recommendations from the independent review of our environment laws. There are gaping loopholes that present a very serious risk to environmental protection unless addressed.
The legislation was referred straight to the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee for inquiry. This is good news! It gives us an opportunity to improve the proposed legislation – and ultimately secure the proper protections our forests, rivers, wildlife and ecosystems need to thrive.
This guide is designed to help you write a powerful submission to the Senate Inquiry into the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Standards and Assurance) Bill 2021.
The Standards and Assurance Bill has been brought in to try to win over senate support for the government’s stalled Streamlining Environmental Approvals Bill (which will enable it to hand over decision making powers to the states, territories and local governments).
The Standards and Assurance Bill bill aims to do two core things:
We believe these measures are important, but the Standards and Assurance Bill is poorly drafted and has too many loopholes to deliver environmental outcomes. Strengthening the legislation is critical if we are to address Australia’s worsening extinction crisis.
The Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee is keen to hear your views on the government’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Standards and Assurance) Bill 2021.
The Inquiry is open for public submissions until Thursday 25 March 2021. It is scheduled to report its findings on 1 June 2021.
Generally, the best submissions:
As this bill relates to two key issues – National Environmental Standards and a National Environmental Commissioner – it’s important your submission relates to these two issues.
Getting started on a submission can be tricky. Structure is important as it enables you to communicate your key points. A simple structure you may wish to follow is:
Start your submission by briefly introducing who you are, why you care about our environment, and why you have taken the time to write your submission.
Emphasise your personal experience or unique perspective. Maybe you have advocated to save a place – like the Franklin River or your local nature corridor/green belt – and encountered unchecked, excessive development.
Maybe you have spoken out to save an Australian species or a local wildlife population – like the Black-Throated Finch or the Leadbeater’s Possum – and did not have the resources or political will to protect it.
Maybe you’re a member of a local revegetation group, you build nesting boxes and insect hotels, or are passionate about echidnas.
All reasons to care about our environment are good reasons.
Don’t go into too much detail here – you’ll need to draw on your personal experiences next when talking about the issues that matter to you.
Remember: keep your submission polite and respectful. The Committee will dismiss submissions that are rude or target individual public servants or Members of Parliament.
It’s important that you add your own views on these issues. Whilst legislation can be technical, it is dealing with relatively simple concepts.
It may seem daunting but don’t be discouraged. These processes are important for showing politicians that everyday people care.
At the highest level, try answer the following questions:
Hint: Environmental standards are simply a technical way of talking about what environmental outcomes decision making should deliver. For example, it may mean protecting certain habitats for threatened species, or rules that make sure our World Heritage Areas, like the Great Barrier Reef or the Blue Mountains are safeguarded for future generations.
Similarly, what type of oversight would you like to see if state, territory or local governments are given the primary responsibility for protecting nationally threatened species or World Heritage Areas? For most people, they would be pretty concerned about the federal government handing over their decision making responsibilities, and if they did, they would want to make sure that the states and territories were policed closely to ensure they did it properly.
Inquiries always welcome suggestions on how to improve things. Here are some suggestions on how the senate could work to strengthen the legislation:
Below are some suggested key points for your submission. It gets a bit technical, so don’t worry if you can’t cover all of them. You don’t need to say them all, or say them as they are written (actually, it's better if you phrase them in your own words).
The Standards and Assurance Bill is made up of two schedules:
While National Environmental Standards are the centrepiece of Professor Samuel’s report and are supported by ACF, the Morrison Government has cherry-picked elements of the Samuel report and entirely discarded the detailed set of National Environmental Standards developed by the Independent review of the EPBC Act. A framework for making standards will be ineffective if there are no clear requirements around the quality, consistency and comprehensive application of standards.
Drawbacks of the legislation
What should be done to improve Schedule 1 of the legislation?
The proposed Environmental Assurance Commissioner (EAC) would be appointed by the Governor General and have specific responsibilities for overseeing the implementation of bilateral agreement and Commonwealth approval responsibilities consistent with national standards. While independently appointed, the EAC would sit within the federal Department of the Agriculture, Water and the Environment.
Key drawbacks of the model proposed by the government include:
What should be done to improve Schedule 2 of the legislation?