The Morrison government must heed the unambiguous warnings in Graeme Samuel’s final review of Australia’s environment law, which recognises that nature in our country is in decline and on an unsustainable trajectory, the Australian Conservation Foundation said.
Professor Samuel’s final report finds the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act to be ‘ineffective’, leads to ‘piecemeal decisions’ and is ‘not fit to address current or future environmental challenges’.
“In the 20 years since the EPBC Act was introduced, it has failed to protect Australia’s unique wildlife, plants and ecosystems,” said ACF’s nature program manager Basha Stasak.
“Australia has become a global deforestation hotspot with one of the worst extinction records on Earth.
“Entire ecosystems like the Great Barrier Reef and the Murray Darling Basin are collapsing.
“It is time to overhaul our national environment law with a full package of reforms that includes strong legally enforceable standards and an independent regulator – and these must be in force before the government pursues its Streamlining Environmental Approvals legislation.
“As Professor Samuel states, national environmental standards alone are not enough.
“Standards need to be backed up by strong, independent oversight and increased accountability.
“ACF strongly welcomes Professor Samuel’s recommendations for an independent statutory Environment Assurance Commissioner who would report to the Australian Parliament.
“ACF also welcomes the proposal for an independent office of Compliance and Enforcement.
“Investigations by ACF and the national Auditor General have found significant failings in compliance and enforcement under the EPBC Act. An independent compliance and enforcement body should be housed outside of the existing Department.
“The review also supports greater community involvement in environmental decision making, recommending a form of merits review – a critical accountability mechanism in a democracy like Australia.
“ACF strongly supports recommendations to remove the logging industry’s special exemption from national environmental law.
“Unsustainable logging has pushed numerous Australian species – like the Swift parrot, Leadbeater’s possum, Greater glider and more – to the brink. This loophole must be closed.
“ACF welcomes the clear recognition of the need for comprehensive assessment of nuclear actions. Despite a concerted industry push to reduce scrutiny of uranium mining and other nuclear activities the review has unequivocally called for the retention of nuclear issues as a dedicated federal responsibility.
“We disagree with the recommendation to restrict the application of the water trigger to only cross-border water resources, but we welcome the suggestion that the trigger be expanded so it covers other actions beyond coal mining and coal seam gas mining.
“The ball is now in the Morrison government’s court.
“Rushing to hand over federal decision-making to states and territories would have devastating consequences for our wildlife, unique natural places and communities.
“Without strong standards and independent oversight, fast tracking approvals simply fast tracks extinction.”