The Federal Government has introduced a bill that proposes a number of changes to the EPBC Act, our national environmental laws. The Government is seeking to make legislative changes at the eleventh hour, before the release of the final report of the EPBC Act 10-year review. A Senate Committee was established to report on this critically important legislation but given only two weeks to do so.
What you need to know about the bill
- The proposed amendments devolve responsibility for ‘Matters of National Environmental Significance' from the Federal Government to states and territories.
- In its current form the Bill will establish substantially weaker environmental regulations, likely to contribute to significant environmental degradation.
- The Bill heavily favours development over environmental considerations.
- The Bill’s attempt to remove Federal Government control of the ‘water trigger’. This is a dangerous action impacting our most precious resource and is not supported by evidence.
- The Bill is almost identical to Tony Abbott’s ‘One Stop Shop’ Bill that was defeated in the Senate in 2014 due to its inherent environmental risks. Despite environmental indicators continuing to decline in Australia the Government has not changed its strategy.
- The Bill ignores all the recommendations made by the Interim Report as part of the Samuel's review of the EPBC Act.
Why devolving environmental protection won’t work
We need national leadership on national environmental issues. With no safeguards, no additional resources and no independent regulator, State and Territory Governments are ill equipped to handle the job of implementing the EPBC Act.
In the context of the Northern Territory, there is limited capacity for the NT Government to suddenly undertake the regulatory responsibilities prescribed under the EPBC Act.
The EPBC Act is complex, time consuming and expensive to administer. The NT Government is small, heavily indebted and does not have the capacity to suddenly manage the operations at the scale of the EPBC Act.
State of the environment in Central Australia
Central Australia is highly vulnerable to environmental degradation. Biodiversity and conservation is under threat from changed fire regimes, native wildlife predation by foxes and cats, introduced weeds such as buffel grass and overgrazing. Extinction is also a massive issue. Central Australia is reported to have some of the highest rate of mammalian extinction in the world.
People and landscapes are on the frontline of climate change in Central Australia, with 2018 and 2019 representing two of the driest and hottest years on record for the region. In January 2019 - the daily average temperature was 41.5℃.
The EPBC Act is already too weak to protect the unique environment and biodiversity of Central Australia, prevent critical habitat from being destroyed and stop accelerating species decline.
The proposed Bill would only further weaken our environmental protection laws making it a major threat to biodiversity, conservation and culture in Central Australia.
What ALEC is doing about it
ALEC made a submission to the Senate Committee and is calling on the Parliament to reject this proposed Amendment to the EPBC Act. Furthermore, we condemn the rushed, ill-thought through attempts to weaken Australia’s environmental protections rather than strengthen them.
Our key recommendations to the Senate in relation to this proposed Amendment Bill are:
- The Bill is abandoned and no amendments are made to the EPBC Act until National Environmental Standards are implemented
- There is no attempt to legislate the Bill prior to the final report of the 10-year EPBC review is published publicly and is scrutinised.
- Any new National Environmental Standards should be made available to the public for comment, prior to being put before Parliament.
- Approval of nuclear powers are not devolved to state and territory governments.
- Establishment of an Independent Environmental Regulator to ensure oversight and compliance of the EPBC Act . The review’s Interim Report recommends a ‘strong, independent cop on the beat’.
- there is no attempt to legislate the Bill prior to the final report of the 10-year EPBC review is published publicly and is scrutinised.
- The devolution of the ‘water trigger’ to states and territories is abandoned and not considered until a National Environmental Standard is established in the protection of water.
ALEC also made a submission into the review of the EPBC Act and identified changes needed to bring our laws up to scratch. These are:
Addressing our biggest environmental threats.
Land clearing, climate change and shale gas fracking must be added as matters of National Environmental Significance in the Act for it to be effective.
Preventing extinction of plants and wildlife
The Act needs to be amended to prevent further extinction of our threatened species. In the Territory, this means applying it to stop the spread of buffel grass which is endangering our plants and wildlife. Habitat loss due to inappropriate development must also be addressed.
Government decision making must be accountable and transparent
The laws are there to be followed. The Act needs better measures for accountability and transparency of decision-making processes. Political interests should not be allowed to trump independent recommendations made to protect the environment.
Read the EDO discussion of the Bill