Reforms keep pace with environmental needs

by FM Media
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The Federal Government has announced significant reforms to Australia’s national environmental law to better protect the nation’s stunning environment and keep pace with economic growth.

Environment Minister Tony Burke has outlined the first major overhaul of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999 since it was created more than a decade ago, which includes the Government’s response to an independent review of the Act by Allan Hawke AC.
The reforms outline better environmental protection focusing on whole regions and ecosystems and faster environmental assessments. They also outline a consistent national approach to environmental impact assessments that removes duplication, cuts red tape and provides better upfront guidance on legislation requirements, with more long-term certainty and transparency.
“When it was introduced 12 years ago, the EPBC Act 1999 provided substantial powers to the Federal Government to regulate matters of national environmental significance and conserve our unique biodiversity,” Burke says. “But as our communities and economy have grown, our experience in managing our environment has also evolved.
“These reforms will help to ensure Australia’s national environmental laws remain effective in protecting our unique environment and cutting red tape for businesses for job-creating projects. It sets out a new national approach to the protection of Australia’s environment and biodiversity, which will be better for the environment, better for business and mean better cooperation between government, industry and communities.”
The environmental reforms include:

  • a more active approach to protecting Australia’s environment through more strategic assessments and regional environmental plans
  • identifying and protecting ecosystems of national significance under the EPBC Act through regional environment plans, strategic assessments or conservation agreements to protect the most significant and healthy ecosystems before they are threatened or degraded
  • a more cooperative approach to developing environmental standards by establishing a new National Centre for Cooperation on Environment and Development that will bring together industry, scientists, non-government organisations and governments to work together on environmental standards, guidelines and procedures (expressions of interest for the new centre are now open)
  • a more streamlined assessment process to cut red tape for business and improve time-frames for decision-making, including an option for decisions on proposals within 35 business days, if all required information is provided
  • new national standards for accrediting environmental impact assessments and approvals to better align Commonwealth and state systems
  • a new Federal Government Biodiversity Policy for consultation to further protect ecosystems across the continent and guide future biodiversity planning and programs
  • establishing a single national list of threatened species and ecological communities to reduce inconsistencies between jurisdictions
  • better regulation of international trade in wildlife by streamlining permits
  • more transparent information to inform communities about environmental assessments, including making it standard practice to publish the Environment Department’s recommendation reports
  • better processes for Heritage listing through more transparent listing processes based on a single assessment list
  • development of an environmental offsets policy to better explain to proponents and the community how offsets are assessed and what would be acceptable under specific proposals – a draft policy has been released for consultation with industry and communities, and
  • public consultation on possible introduction of cost recovery to ensure adequate resourcing for administration of the EPBC Act, with the release of a cost recovery paper, which will outline options for cost recovery of specific activities under the EPBC Act.
  • The environmental reforms outlined by the Federal Government will be built on through the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) national reform agenda, with additional new mechanisms such as national standards and guidelines to reduce duplication and streamline state laws with federal laws.

The environmental reforms and proposed changes to the EPBC Act follow an independent review commissioned by the Government and led by Hawke, which provided 71 recommendations, 56 of which have been agreed fully or in part and 15 of which have not been accepted.

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