Government breaks faith on environment reforms

By : Humane Society International August 27, 2020

Humane Society International warns the Morrison Government's amendments to Australia's national environment law tabled in Parliament today risk worsening the country's extinction crisis and break faith with an independent review of the law. 

The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Streamlining Environmental Approvals) Bill 2020 hands over federal government responsibilities for 'Matters of National Environmental Significance' to states and territories who are ill equipped for the job, with no provision for enforceable standards, no safeguards, no additional resources and no independent regulator.

"The Morrison Government's devolution bill is all risk and no safeguards, said Nicola Beynon, HSI Head of Campaigns. "This is no way to treat World Heritage sites, internationally important wetlands and our threatened species; least of all when Australia is facing a deepening environmental crisis.

"The Morrison Government's devolution bill also treats with disrespect the independent statutory review undertaken by Professor Graeme Samuel, sidelining key recommendations from his 124 page interim report, 30,000 public submissions and the hard work of HSI and other stakeholders on the consultative group for the review,” added Ms Beynon. 

In his interim report Professor Samuel said "fundamental reform of national environmental law is required” and "new legally enforceable National Environmental Standards should be the foundation”. He said standards "should be regulatory instruments” and "the law must require that the Standards be applied”. This Bill requires no such safeguards.  

"The Bill the Morrison Government has tabled is simply a rehash of the Abbott Government's 'One-Stop Shop' Bill defeated in the Senate in 2014. It is as though Professor Samuel's 124 page report with recommendations for minimising the risks of devolution with rigorous and transparent processes, legally enforceable National Environment Standards and an independent regulator doesn't exist,” said Alexia Wellbelove, HSI Senior Campaign Manager.

"This is a breach of trust with the thousands of Australians who are engaging in good faith in the ongoing Samuel Review process,” said Ms Wellbelove.

Professor Samuel has said the EPBC Act is ineffective and does not enable the Commonwealth to play its role in conserving matters that are important for the nation. He says it is not fit to address future environmental challenges. 

"All this Bill does is push the limitations of the EPBC Act down to states and territories without fixing any of the problems,” said Ms Beynon. "The Government has promised National Environment Standards to help our ailing environment but this Bill does not legislate for binding standards.

The statutory review must be allowed to conclude and a full suite of reforms introduced that address the challenges raised in the Samuel review and deliver the best outcome for nature. This must include a strong independent regulator and strong, legally-enforceable national environmental standards to ensure that habitat and species are protected,” said Ms Beynon. 

"The EPBC review presents a once in decade opportunity to deliver laws that actually protect nature, and an independent regulator to enforce them. We call on the Senate to stop these reckless amendments being rushed through Parliament,” concluded Ms Wellbelove.

Nicola Beynon is a member of the Consultative Group to the EPBC Review and has worked closely with the EPBC Act since its passage twenty years ago. 

Alexia Wellbelove spearheaded the campaign to reject the Abbott Government's One Stop Shop bill in the Senate in 2014.

Photo: Diane Armbrust

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