The highly anticipated independent review of Australia's national environment law by Professor Graeme Samuel has been welcomed by Humane Society International (HSI). The conservation organisation said it presents an opportunity for durable law reform the Morrison Government must not squander.
Releasing Professor Samuel's final report, federal Environment Minister, The Hon Sussan Ley, has indicated the Government will press on with its bill to hand over approval powers for developments with 'national environmental significance' to the states and territories—a devolution process, once referred to as 'one stop shop' and now 'single touch approvals'.
The Senate has made it clear they would not pass the Government's 'single touch approvals' bill without strong legally binding standards and an 'independent cop on the beat', which Professor Samuel recommended in an interim review report last year. In his final report Professor Samuel recommends the suite of National Environmental Standards, which he refers to as the centrepiece of his recommended reforms, to be implemented in full. He also outlines a model for an independent, statutory Environment Assurance Commissioner and an independent Office of Compliance and Enforcement.
Notably, Professor Samuel warns "Governments should avoid the temptation to cherry pick from a highly interconnected suite of recommendations”. He also recognises that significant new investment in restoration is required alongside reformed legislation.
Commenting on the report, HSI Head of Campaigns Nicola Beynon, said: "HSI has been participating in the consultation processes for the Review, frustrated by two decades of cumulative impacts wrought on our continent's threatened species and their habitats, and Australia among world leaders in vegetation clearing and extinctions.
"Professor Samuel's report puts forward a solution which balances the frustrations felt by both the environment and business sectors he spent a year consulting with, which, if done well, has the potential to improve environmental outcomes. The opportunity is now for the Government to follow through on the recommended package of inter-connected reforms.
"The Government will be doing the consultation process a disservice if it persists with reforms that do little more than rehash the 'one stop shop' bill the Government failed to get through the Senate in 2014.
"HSI will continue advising the Government and Parliament that strong environmental standards and independent governance are essential to reforms so that Australians can feel confident in a future where our world renowned wildlife will recover and thrive.
Nicola Beynon was a member of Professor Samuel's consultation panel.
HSI will be examining the final review report in detail and able to comment on specific recommendations.
Image: Finn Whelen
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