What even is the EPBC?
The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (1999) was passed by the Howard Government to protect ‘nationally significant’ animals, plants, habitats and places from any potential negative impacts before changes in land use or new developments are approved.
The EPBC covers:
- world heritage areas
- national heritage places
- wetlands of international importance (listed under the Ramsar Convention)
- listed threatened species and ecological communities
- migratory species protected under international agreements
- Commonwealth marine areas
- Great Barrier Reef Marine Park
- nuclear actions (including uranium mines)
- a water resource, in relation to coal seam gas development and large coal mining development.
What’s all this about a Review?
An independent review of the EPBC is legislated for every 10 years. The Hawke Review in 2010 was not considered to be effectively implemented. The Interim Report by Professor Samuels was handed down in July with the final Samuels Review due in October 2020.
The EPBC is not serving to protect the environment, here’s why:
- Australia’s extinction crisis
Australia has the world’s highest rate of mammalian extinction. The Act and its implementation has demonstrably failed, with almost 2000 species and subspecies now extinct. In an open letter recently, 230 scientists stated their concern that the Government’s push to deregulate environmental approvals will lead to an extinction crisis
- Inadequate monitoring and regulation
Only 22 of 6,500 projects referred for approval were knocked back in the Act’s 20-year history, and a total of 22 infringements were posted with a total of $230,000 issued in fines for breaches of development conditions.
- Inadequate national standards framework
The listing of species and ecosystems as threatened has been delayed by successive ministers, funding has been directed to projects that did not benefit threatened species, has not registered a single piece of critical habitat for 15 years, and hundreds of plants and animals have been identified as requiring urgent attention after the 2019 summer bushfire disaster.
Funding for the environment department, investing in specialist project teams and developing central databases are all required. Making Australia’s environmental laws less ambiguous, would achieve greater certainty for industry, and the environment. For example, saying this particular species, or area, or piece of cultural heritage is a no-go zone.
Pre-empting the Review
In June, pre-empting both the interim and final Samuels Reviews, the Prime Minister announced at a conference, without any reference to the environment, that the Government had already cut approval times for development projects from 90 days in November 2019 to 40 days, and would decrease them further to 30 days in 2020. Citing the Minerals Council’s cost of project delays at more than $1 million a day (MCA submission), “single touch approvals” he said, will streamline federal and state processes.
The Morrison government repeats the same lines as the Minerals Council and APPEA use repeatedly. From “cutting green-tape”, to “one-stop-shop”, to creating jobs for regional communities, it’s all the same rhetoric, repeated.
Why the hurry?
Much of the Government’s recent concern has been placed on economic recovery led by the power and influence of the National Covid-19 Coordination Commission (Now known as the National Covid-19 Commission Advisory Board or NCCAB). Appointed under cover at the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis, Morrison has seemingly outsourced important aspects of the economic recovery to this body that is stacked with fossil fuel executives. They have been actively promoting the expansion of gas as a transitional fuel, with taxpayer subsidies. It would seem Morrison is anxious to accommodate their proposals by not only speeding up approvals and cutting “green tape” but also prior to October when the Federal Budget is expected.
What we can do about the fossil fuel lobby’s agenda
We have to stand up against the fossil fuel lobby as it pushes for the slashing environmental regulation and giving handouts to coal and gas, and call for a People’s Recovery that puts a clean and fair future for all above the interests of a greedy few.
That’s why we’ve started our accountability and transparency project, Fossil Fuel Watch, tracking the undue influence of the fossil fuel lobby during the Covid-19 pandemic – you can follow this campaign here.And to join the call for a People’s Recovery, sign our petition here.