GOVERNMENT SET TO KNEE-CAP ENVIRONMENT PROTECTION LAWS
WWF and HSI will tell a Federal Senate Committee today that without major changes, the bill to amend Australia’s premier environmental legislation, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act, 1999 (EPBC), will remove the scientific objectivity that has been the hallmark of the EPBC Act until now and put the protection of Australia’s natural environment at the whim of the Minister for the Environment.
If the Bill is not amended, it will increase Ministerial discretion, reduce public accountability, and restrict public nominations of new threatened species and heritage sites.
Both WWF and HSI consider that this would be a major retreat from international best practice conservation law.
“Watering down objective listing processes based on sound science by adding a big dose of ministerial discretion is not in the interest of threatened species conservation,” says Andreas Glanznig, WWF-Australia’s Senior Policy Adviser.
“Historically, public involvement in the Act has improved animal welfare and saved thousands of animals from death, for example improving living conditions for threatened animals being transported internationally and stopping the electrocution of thousands of spectacled flying foxes. Reducing third party enforcement closes the gate for these kinds of actions,” says Michael Kennedy, HSI Director.
To date HSI and WWF have been strong supporters of the EPBC Act, despite major concerns about how it has been administered. If the amendments are passed without change the government will no longer be able to claim that it has world leading environmental legislation.
The greatest risks from these amendments are that they will undermine years of conservation effort and severely inhibit the identification and protection of Australia’s threatened species habitat. The current amendments will:
- Potentially wipe 500 threatened ecological communities from the current waiting list for protection under the EPBC Act (amounting to millions of hectares of endangered habitat across the country).
- Remove the mandatory requirement to develop a Recovery Plan once a threatened species or ecological community is listed under the law as threatened;
- Further weaken the requirement to identify “critical habitat” for threatened species in any Recovery Plans that are developed;
- Make it harder for the public to secure legal protection for threatened species and ecological communities with a new requirement for public nominations to comply with “themes” set by the Minister or risk having their nominations left off lists for consideration;
- Give the Minister arbitrary discretion to remove a publicly nominated species or ecological community from the annual list of species to be assessed for listing.
- Allow the Minister to refuse to have assessed a threatened species previously rejected for protection even if its conservation status has worsened (also open to abuse for controversial species).