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Interim report on the independent review of the EPBC Act

Graeme Samuel’s interim report on the independent review of the EPBC Act has been released and his findings concur with the what our members know – environmental laws are not protecting the environment now and cannot respond to future challenges. Graeme proposes a package of reforms designed to achieve better outcomes including stronger standards, better data and higher penalties for non-compliance, administered by an independent ‘cop on the beat’. 

Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley released a media statement outlining the government’s response to the interim report and has provided further information on the government’s approach in media interviews. Motivated by a goal of increasing development in the context of economic decline, the government wants to devolve approval powers to State and Territory governments and has flagged putting legislation in front of Parliament in August. An independent regulator has been ruled out by the Minister. However, the Government is taking on board concerns about weak protection provided to Aboriginal heritage and the lack of value placed on Indigenous knowledge.

The release of the interim report signals the start of targeted consultation (Review) on specific reforms in the package. A roundtable with a wide range of stakeholders has been established and this will provide a unique opportunity for environmental NGOs to talk directly to other interest groups. Some of the topics which are likely to be discussed will be of interest to members. We will liaise with the Review to ensure our members can participate where appropriate.

Achieving strong environmental laws will only come about if there is support for change beyond environmental groups. In this context, the work the Places You Love Alliance has done to understand and engage with a wide range of stakeholders, is highly significant. Member support made this investment possible.

The Samuel reform package presents a very different system for environmental protection than that envisaged in our submission. However, it is worthwhile reviewing what our submission called for and how our recommendations have been responded to by the interim report or the Minister’s statement.

Our submission to the inquiry

  • called for additional matters of national environmental significance to be added to the Act, including for climate change, but this approach was rejected by Graeme Samuel. Climate change is to be managed through other regulatory instruments outside of the EPBC.
  • called for the creation of two independent bodies to administer the Act, the National Sustainability Commission for planning, monitoring and strategy development and a National Environment Protection Authority for assessment, approval and enforcement. Graeme Samuel advocates for retaining the planning, monitoring and strategy development functions within government and establishing an independent ‘cop’ for enforcement and compliance. The government has rejected the ‘cop’ proposal and is committed to maintaining all functions within government.
  • recommended a co-design approach be established including philanthropy and impact investors to consider how philanthropy and impact investment can be brought to bear on priority environmental issues. The interim report notes our statement on the role the philanthropic sector plays in testing new solutions to tough problems. The final Review report will include the results of their research into models that bring private investment and public investment together. The Minister has flagged the creation of a Natural Capital Fund.
  • noted the importance of national environmental accounts in the context of increasing private investment. The Review is highly critical of the collection, maintaining and sharing of data which is an essential component of the entire decision making system.
  • sought an elevation of the role of the community in the process including enhanced rights for Indigenous communities, strong public participation and access to justice provisions. The Review was extremely critical of the exclusion of Indigenous communities and traditional knowledge from the processes and this has been responded to by the Minister. The Review concludes that the community distrusts the Act and how it is administered because there is a lack of clear pathways for community involvement. It recommends the National Environmental Standards include requirements relating to community consultation.

If you would like more information or have questions regarding the Review contact Amanda at