Alert – Opportunity to make submissions on Commonwealth environment and biodiversity reform package
26 August 2011
On August 24, the Australian Government announced its proposed reform package for protecting Australia's biological diversity and amending the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Act). The package is partly in response to the review undertaken into the Act by Dr Allan Hawke in 2009.
The reforms package includes:
- Draft Australian Biodiversity Policy - that will seek to guide biodiversity planning and programs.
- Draft Environmental Offsets Policy - to explain how offsets are assessed and what would be acceptable under specific proposals. In summary all offsets must improve or maintain the viability of the aspect of the environment affected by the action with the majority to be direct offsets rather than indirect offsets.
- Proposed amendments to the Act:
- Regional environmental plans and strategic assessments. This will identify areas where development can occur without approval under the Act, and areas where greater ecological sensitivities will still require individual referrals under the Act. Regional environmental plans will focus on ecologically sustainable land uses in a particular geographical area. Future guidelines will be developed to direct the use of such assessments and plans which will initially focus on priority areas.
- Ecosystems of national significance. A new matter of national environmental significance (and thus a trigger for approval) which protects the ecological character of the listed ecosystem (eg. cassowary movement corridors critical to seed dispersal). Unlike other listings, it can only occur as result of a strategic assessment or regional environmental plan.
- Empowering the minister to issue legally binding determinations that particular actions do not require approval.
- Streamlining the assessment process and a new option of assessment based on referral documentation which should take no more than 35 business days.
- Recovery of costs of assessing applications under the Act. A cost recovery consultation paper should be released shortly for discussion.
- Establishment of joint state, territory and Commonwealth assessment panels which could be used for some projects although the minister will retain approval discretion.
- Establishing a single national list of threatened species and communities to reduce inconsistencies amongst jurisdictions.
- Formalisation of some practices of the Threatened Species Scientific Committee (eg. ensure that a listing of ecological communities also identifies known areas required to persist and maintain its resilience, appropriate buffer zones and threats).
- Addition of vulnerable ecological communities to matters of national environmental significance.
- Emergency listing processes for threatened species and communities.
- Auditing of environmental assessments, legislative compliance and performance.
- Ability of the Minister to request further information on reasonable and feasible alternatives at the referral stage.
- Prevention orders or stop work orders to deal with non-compliance.
- More transparent information disclosure to the community including internal departmental recommendation reports.
- National Centre for Cooperation on Environment and Development – intended to provide a neutral forum for industry, scientists, government and non-government to develop recommendations for national environmental standards, guidelines and procedures under national environmental law. Expressions of interest for partners in the centre are sought by 1 November 2011.
- COAG reform agenda - the Council of Australian Governments will consider environmental assessment and approvals, and streamlining them between jurisdictions, including:
- national standards for environmental impact assessment that can be consistently applied across all jurisdictions
- development of a single national threatened species list
- national standards for offsets and biobanking schemes.
- Guidelines - the Department will publish guidelines on referrals, information required, proponent identity, surveys, certain geographical areas and protected matters, precautionary principle and best practice consultation. They will be available for public comment before they come into force.
Call for submissions
The public has an opportunity to make submissions on various aspects of the reforms until 21 October 2011. Details of the reforms can be found here.
For advice on or assistance with making submissions on the EPBC Act, please contact the individuals listed under Contacts above.