In 1999, HSI supported the passage of the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act through the Parliament. While not perfect, the EPBC Act was a substantial advance on the laws it was replacing and removed environmental decision-making from the resources and agriculture ministers.
However in 20 years, the threats faced by our natural environment have grown dramatically and the time has come to re-think our legislation to ensure we deal with these increased threats and develop protections that future-proof Australia’s wild animals and places.
Australia’s environment is facing one of its toughest periods. The combined threats of the clearing of habitat, drought, bushfires and more means that Australia’s wildlife and their habitat are facing an extinction crisis. A staggering three billion animals are estimated to have been lost in the black summer bushfires alone.
It is clear that stronger laws are required if we want to protect what we have and to avert further loss. Australia is not alone in this challenge and last year a panel of experts convened by the United Nations identified the need for ‘transformative change’ to tackle the extinction crisis.
Chief among the EPBC Act’s limitations is its inability to deal well with cumulative impacts. Too many species and ecosystems that are supposed to be protected by the Act are suffering their demise by a thousand cuts through an environmental assessment and approval process that rarely, if ever, says no.
Under the EPBC Act, decision making powers are invested in the environment minister, but broad ministerial discretion allows short-term political interests to override the long-term national good. The Act also contains far too many exemptions, including one that has lately been abused to allow culling and displacement of threatened species for very dubious ‘national interests’.
The Places You Love Alliance, a coalition of the nation’s leading conservation advocacy groups of which HSI is a founding member, is calling for anew generation of environment laws to face the challenges of the 21st Century.
Australia needs national environment laws that demand strong leadership from our federal government, protect decision making from political interference, empower independent and trusted institutions, have a central and meaningful role for the community and hold the government of the day to account. But most importantly, we need laws that plan ahead for the myriad compounding threats against wildlife and their habitats and provide resilience against climate change.
In developing our policy asks for new laws, the Places You Love alliance has drawn on the body of law reform work undertaken by the Australia Panel of Expert Environmental Lawyers.