Inquiry into the operation of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999

The Australia Institute published a discussion paper in 2005 on how effective the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) had been in the first five years of its operation (Macintosh & Wilkinson 2005).

The paper specifically considered the following questions:
  • are the activities that are threatening the environmental issues covered by the EAA regime being appropriately regulated?
  • have the lists of threatened species, threatened ecological communities and national heritage places, which are linked to the EAA regime, been appropriately maintained?
  • has the Commonwealth taken adequate steps to ensure that people comply with the EAA regime?
  • have the bilateral agreements resulted in improvements in state and territory environmental laws and reduced unnecessary duplication?
  • has there been any improvement in the condition of the environmental issues covered by the EAA regime?
The paper concluded by saying of the Act’s environmental assessment and approval (EAA) regime:
"In almost all areas, the regime has failed to produce any noticeable improvements in environmental outcomes. The activities that pose the greatest threat to the Act’s ‘matters of national environmental significance’ are rarely being referred to the Minister and, when they are, the Minister is not taking adequate steps to ensure appropriate conservation results. In five years, the EAA provisions have been responsible for stopping only two activities out of potentially thousands and the conditions that have been imposed on developments under the regime have largely been ineffectual, unenforceable or a mirror of those already imposed under other processes". The terms of reference for an inquiry into the operation of the EPBC Act are now up on the Australian Government website. Submissions are due 5th September 2008.

The inquiry terms of reference state:
(1) The Senate notes the continuing decline and extinction of a significant proportion of Australia's unique plants and animals, and the likelihood that accelerating climate change will exacerbate challenges faced by Australian species.

(2) The following matters be referred to the Senate Environment, Communications and the Arts Committee for inquiry and report by 27 November 2008:

The operation of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) and other natural resource protection programmes, with particular reference to:
  • the findings of the National Audit Office Audit 38 Referrals, Assessments and Approvals under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999;
  • lessons learnt from the first 10 years of operation of the EPBC Act in relation to the protection of critical habitats of threatened species and ecological communities, and potential for measures to improve their recovery;
  • the cumulative impacts of EPBC Act approvals on threatened species and ecological communities, for example on Cumberland Plain Woodland, Cassowary habitat, Grassy White Box Woodlands and the Paradise Dam;
  • the effectiveness of responses to key threats identified within the EPBC Act, including land-clearing, climate change and invasive species, and potential for future measures to build environmental resilience and facilitate adaptation within a changing climate;
  • the effectiveness of Regional Forest Agreements, in protecting forest species and forest habitats where the EPBC Act does not directly apply;
  • the impacts of other environmental programmes, eg EnviroFund, GreenCorps, Caring for our Country, Environmental Stewardship Programme and Landcare in dealing with the decline and extinction of certain flora and fauna; and
  • the impact of programme changes and cuts in funding on the decline or extinction of flora and fauna.
EIANZ members in Australia have practical experience working with the EPBC Act and are encouraged to make a submission to the inquiry on any of the above points.

Macintosh A, Wilkinson D. 2005. Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act - A Five Year Assessment. The Australia Institute, Discussion Paper Number 81, July 2005, Melbourne.

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