ACIUCN welcomes the release of the Independent Review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 earlier this year.
The Review includes a set of 38 recommendations on an appropriate way forward, centered around a new framework of National Environmental Standards. The most significant of these are summarised below:
· New, legally enforceable National Environmental Standards should be established to deliver ecologically sustainable development. These Standards are necessary to improve decision-making by the Commonwealth and to provide confidence that any agreements to accredit States and Territories will contribute to national environmental outcomes, not just streamline development approvals.
· Australia’s Indigenous cultural heritage laws need to be reviewed, and more work is needed to support better engagement with Indigenous Australians and to respectfully incorporate Traditional Knowledge of Country into how the environment is managed.
· Legislative complexity should be reduced. Immediate amendments should be made to fix inconsistencies, gaps and conflicts in the EPBC Act to make it easier to understand and work with, whilst also explicitly considering its interaction with other Commonwealth legislation.
· A new, independent, statutory position of Environment Assurance Commissioner (EAC) should be created. The EAC should be responsible for reporting on the performance of the Commonwealth, States and Territories, and other accredited parties in implementing the Standards.
· The Commonwealth should immediately establish a new independent Office of Compliance and Enforcement within the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. It should have modern regulatory powers and tools to enable it to deliver compliance and enforcement of Commonwealth approvals, consistent with this Standard.
· Ultimately, governments should shift their focus from individual project approvals to a focus on clear outcomes, integrated into national and regional plans for protecting and restoring the environment and plans for sustainable development.
· The size and long-term nature of investment required in restoration cannot be delivered solely by governments. New mechanisms are needed to leverage private-sector investment and to align this with national outcomes for the environment.
· A quantum shift in the quality of information is needed, so that the right information is available at the right time for the community, proponents and decision-makers. This will deliver better decisions, and faster and lower cost assessments and approvals.
· Trust in the EPBC Act should be built through increased transparency of information and decision-making.
· A coherent framework for monitoring, evaluating and reporting on the effectiveness of the EPBC Act is required to understand if we are on track to achieve outcomes and, if not, where a change of course is needed.
- A new overarching advisory committee – the Ecologically Sustainable Development Committee – should be assigned responsibility for developing this framework and reporting on outcomes for matters of national environmental significance.
Central to the operation of the framework put forward by the Independent review is the development of new National Environmental Standards that would underpin assessment and approvals processes for Matters of National Environmental Significance across Australia.
As the National Committee for IUCN we bring together Australian IUCN members, including a number of Federal, State and Territory environmental Departments, and environmental non-government organisations. We are well-placed to foster dialogue across sectors and jurisdictions on the potential design and operation of National Environmental Standards.
We intend to host a webinar at the second part of this year to outline perspectives on the development and operation of future National Environmental Standards across all sectors. Seeking interest from all stakeholders (including non-IUCN members), please register your interest via director@ACIUCN.org.au.