In April 2024, Environment Minister Plibersek announced the Government’s intention to progress reforms to our national environmental law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) in three stages. 

Stage 1 included expanding the ‘water trigger’ and introducing the nature repair market, Stage 2 will involve creating a new national environmental regulator, Environment Protection Australia (EPA), a new data body, Environment Information Australia (EIA), and strengthening compliance and enforcement powers and penalties. Stage 3 will progress the rest of the environmental law reform package. 

Humane Society International (HSI) Australia has long been calling for a national EPA and welcomes the Government’s recognition of the importance of environmental data in reversing the extinction crisis. The Government’s increased focus on compliance and enforcement is decades overdue.  

While an EPA and EIA are important institutions, in the face of the current extinction crisis, the Stage 2 reforms don’t go nearly far enough. What we have seen of the proposals so far suggests that more will be needed to ensure the EPA and EIA are truly independent and effective, and we need to urgently see additional reforms now so that nature gets improved protections now. There is no reason to delay on amendments that can remove existing exemptions and create stronger protections immediately. 

Environment Protection Australia 
The EPA must have an independent Board of suitably qualified members that is responsible for appointing the CEO and obliged to report on EPA activities to Parliament. Clear obligations and duties must be established and the Minister’s Statement of Expectations for the EPA must be constrained by them. These duties must require the EPA to protect and restore Australia’s environment; ensure outcome-focused and transparent decision-making with strong community engagement; and provide for robust compliance and enforcement responses, under both standard and accredited decision-making processes. 

An independent EPA will also need a strong set of National Environment Standards to guide decision making to protect and recover our threatened wildlife and their habitats. The proposed decision-making delegation processes must not undermine the EPA’s independence.

Environment Information Australia 
EIA will play an important role in coordinating data to help in recovering threatened species, including obligations to complete State of the Environment Reports every two years, develop environmental economic accounts, and implement National Environmental Information Assets. These are important functions that will help to better understand and manage our natural environment. 

HSI Australia is also calling for the EIA to have specific reporting obligations in relation to the progress of threatened species recovery measures, strategies and outcomes as well as measures to control key threats. This will ensure Australia can better track whether our threatened wildlife and their habitats are on a path to recovery. 

We also understand that legislation creating EIA will define ‘nature positive’ – the key concept that will underpin our national environment laws. It’s therefore vital that ‘nature positive’ reflects internationally recognised best practice definitions focussed on measurable repair and recovery. 

Nature urgently needs more 
With more than 2,000 threatened species and ecological communities identified as facing an extinction risk, and more being added every year, imperilled wildlife cannot afford any further delays on the implementation of stronger environmental protections. Stage 2 must go further and implement stronger protections for nature now. 

Existing commitments to rule out unacceptable impacts, protect critical habitat and implement strong National Environmental Standards must be brought into Stage 2.  

We also need the government to close the loopholes and exemptions in the EPBC Act, such as those that permit unassessed land clearing and shark culling programs to continue without assessment and those for Regional Forest Agreements. We must also ensure that key issues such as climate change and deforestation are properly embedded in the Act. 

And finally, we need a clear commitment to complete the Stage 3 reforms in this term of government. Nature simply cannot afford any further delays. 


Image Credit: Campbell Albatross/AGAMI stock

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