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Federal legislation fails to protect the environment in Central Australia

Professor Graeme Samuel’s final report from his review of our national environmental laws calls for legally enforceable national environmental standards and an independent watchdog.

The review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity (EPBC) Act delivered a clear message: without urgent changes, most of Australia’s threatened plants, animals and ecosystems will become extinct.

These reforms are none more crucial to safeguard the environment than in the Northern Territory, as the federal government moves ahead with plans to devolving environmental protection to state and territory governments.

The Northern Territory’s unique wildlife, plants and ecosystems are suffering under woefully inadequate environmental protection laws.  Central Australia has one of the worst mammal extinction rates in the country and the decline of our iconic places is unsustainable.

The report comes as the Senate prepares to vote on a bill which would cut green tape, speed up development approvals and hand decision-making powers down to states and territories via bilateral agreements.

The so-called “single touch” system for environmental approvals 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, the Government has not changed its strategy.

The EPBC Act is already too weak to protect the unique environment and biodiversity of Central Australia. With no safeguards, no additional resources and no independent regulator, the Territory Government is ill-equipped to handle the job of implementing the EPBC Act, leaving us exposed to continued environmental degradation. 

Territorians need to be confident that decisions balance our future development needs in a way that is sustainable and delivers the right level of protection for the environment.

Rushing to hand over federal decision-making to the Territory without legislated national standards and an independent regulator to enforce them would have devastating consequences.

As the report highlights, changes are also needed to ensure that Indigenous Australians are listened to and decision-makers respectfully harness the enormous value of Indigenous knowledge of managing Country.


Image: Aerial view of MacDonnell Ranges revealing rock strata, near Alice Springs, Northern Territory. October 1986 Photo credit: Robert Kerton, accessed via CSIRO ScienceImage

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