Conduct of the inquiry
On 31 October 2012, the Senate referred the following matter to the
Environment and Communications References Committee (the committee) for inquiry
and report by the third sitting day of 2013 (7 February 2013):
The effectiveness of threatened species and ecological
communities' protection in Australia, including:
(a) management of key threats to listed species and
(b) development and implementation of recovery plans;
(c) management of critical habitat across all land
(d) regulatory and funding arrangements at all levels of
(e) timeliness and risk management within the listings
(f) the historical record of state and territory
governments on these matters; and
(g) any other related matter.
On 22 November 2012, the Senate granted an extension of time for
reporting until 28 February 2013. On 06 February 2013, the Senate granted a
further extension of time for reporting until 15 May 2013. On 15 May 2013, the
Senate granted an extension of time for reporting until 20 June 2013. On 20
June 2013, the Senate granted an extension of time for reporting until 4 July
2013. On 4 July, an interim report was tabled, stating that the committee
intended to table a final report on 23 July 2013. On 23 July, a
second interim report was tabled, stating that the committee intended to table
a final report on 31 July 2013. On 31 July 2013, a third interim report was
tabled, stating that the committee intended to table a final report on 7 August
In accordance with usual practice, the committee advertised the inquiry
on its website and in The Australian newspaper. The committee also wrote
to relevant organisations inviting submissions. The committee received 177
submissions. These are listed at Appendix 1.
The committee held public hearings relating to its inquiry in Canberra on
15 February 2013, Melbourne on 20 February 2013, Brisbane on 22 February
2013, and Perth on 7 March 2013. Details of these public hearings are shown at
The remainder of this chapter provides a brief background of the legal
and policy framework relating to the protection of threatened species and
ecological communities in Australia, as well as a summary of relevant recent
reviews and inquiries.
Chapter 2 of this report examines the listing processes for threatened
species and ecological communities, while Chapter 3 outlines issues relating to
recovery planning. Chapter 4 looks at the key threats to threatened species and
ecological communities and their management, including threat abatement planning.
Chapter 5 examines the protection and management of critical habitat,
along with a range of other issues raised during the inquiry.
Chapter 6 discusses policy and funding arrangements relating to
threatened species and ecological communities.
Finally, Chapter 7 examines environmental assessment processes as they
relate to threatened species and ecological communities, as well as the role
and record of state and territory governments.
This report necessarily focusses on Commonwealth policies and
regulation, particularly the Environment Protection and Biodiversity
Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) (the EPBC Act) and its processes. However, state
and territory processes are also considered where appropriate and relevant.
The committee would like to thank the organisations, individuals and
government departments who contributed to the inquiry. The committee also
thanks the secretariat for its work, coordination and drafting assistance.
This section provides a brief background of the legal and policy
framework relating to the protection of threatened species and ecological
communities in Australia, including:
an overview of the protection of threatened species and
ecological communities under the EPBC Act;
relevant national policy and funding arrangements for the protection
of threatened species and ecological communities; and
a summary of recent reviews and inquiries relating to the
protection of threatened species and ecological communities, including in
particular, the Hawke review of the EPBC Act and government response, as well
as other relevant Senate inquiries.
Over 1,800 species and ecological communities are listed as threatened
under the EPBC Act.
The EPBC Act is the Commonwealth's primary piece of environment legislation
aimed at protecting threatened species and ecological communities. The EPBC Act
replaced the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act 1974, the Endangered
Species Protection Act 1992 and a number of other environment-related Acts.
The objects of the Act include:
to provide for the protection of the environment, especially
those aspects which are a matter of national environmental significance;
to promote the conservation of biodiversity; and
to provide for the protection and conservation of heritage.
In general, the EPBC Act prohibits a person from taking an 'action'
without approval from the minister if the action is likely to have a
significant impact on a matter of national environmental significance
unless approved by the Minister for the Environment.
The eight matters of national environmental significance protected under
the EPBC Act are:
world heritage properties;
national heritage places;
wetlands of international importance (listed under the Ramsar
listed threatened species and ecological communities;
migratory species protected under international agreements;
Commonwealth marine areas;
the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park; and
nuclear actions (including uranium mines).
On this basis, the EPBC Act gives the Commonwealth government responsibility
for listed nationally threatened species and ecological communities as a matter
of national environmental significance.
However, threatened species also receive protection through the protection of
other matters of national environmental significance, for example, where they
occur in protected areas such as world heritage properties, national heritage
places, Ramsar wetlands, Commonwealth marine areas and the Great Barrier Reef
Actions that may have a significant impact on a matter of national
environmental significance must be referred to the minister. The minister may
decide that an action:
is a controlled action because it is likely to have a significant
is not a controlled action if undertaken in a manner specified;
is not a controlled action and therefore does not require
The minister must choose one of six methods of assessment for a
controlled action, ranging from a full public inquiry, to assessment based on
the referral documentation. Alternatively, a controlled action may be assessed
by a state or territory process designated in a bilateral agreement or by an
accredited Commonwealth process.
The proponent of the action is usually responsible for the preparation
of assessment documentation. At the completion of an assessment, the minister
must decide whether to approve the action, and may approve an action subject to
In addition to the assessment framework for individual projects, the
EPBC Act allows for strategic assessments that consider matters of national
environmental significance at a landscape or regional scale.
Under section 146 of the EPBC Act, the minister may agree to a 'strategic
assessment'—that is, to assess the impacts of actions under a policy, plan or
program. Entering into a strategic assessment offers the potential to deal with
cumulative impacts on matter of national environmental significance.
The EPBC Act also protects Australia's native species and ecological
communities by providing for:
identification and listing of species and ecological communities
development of conservation advice and recovery plans for listed
species and ecological communities;
development of a register of critical habitat;
recognition of key threatening processes; and
where appropriate, reducing the impacts of these processes
through threat abatement plans.
In addition to the protection mechanisms under the EPBC Act, listing of
species and ecological communities under the EPBC Act also makes them a
priority for funding and management, such as through the Caring for our Country
initiative, which is discussed later in this chapter.
The EPBC Act requires the responsible minister to establish a list of
threatened species divided into the following categories:
(b) extinct in the wild;
(c) critically endangered;
(e) vulnerable; and
(f) conservation dependent.
In addition, the EPBC Act requires the establishment of a list of
threatened ecological communities, which must be assigned to one of the
(b) endangered; or
Any person may nominate a native species, ecological community or
threatening process for listing under any of the categories specified.
Nominations for listing may be made during each assessment period,
usually an annual cycle. The process for nomination and listing normally
followed during an assessment period involves a number of steps:
The minister may determine conservation themes (this step is
The minister invites people to make nominations for inclusion on
the lists of threatened species, threatened ecological communities or key
threatening processes. These nominations are given to the Threatened Species Scientific
The TSSC prepares and provides to the minister a proposed priority
assessment list. The proposed priority assessment list developed by the TSSC
must include an assessment completion time for each item.
The minister finalises the list of items that are to be assessed
('finalised priority assessment list').
The TSSC invites public comment on the items in the finalised
The TSSC assesses the items in the finalised list and gives the
assessments to the minister. The TSSC must assess the items in the finalised
priority assessment list by the time specified in that list or by that time as
extended under section 194P of the Act. In total, the minister may grant
extensions of time up to but not beyond five years.
The minister decides whether an assessed item should be included
in the relevant list within 90 days of receiving the assessment. This period
can be extended indefinitely.
Once listed, threatened species and ecological communities (except
ecological communities listed in the category of 'vulnerable') are recognised
as a matter of national environmental significance. Consequently, any action
that is likely to have a significant impact on listed threatened species and
ecological communities under the EPBC Act must be referred to the minister and
undergo an environmental assessment and approval process.
Listed threatened species and ecological communities are also provided
further protection in Commonwealth areas. Under the EPBC Act, activities in
Commonwealth areas that may result in killing, injuring, taking, trading,
keeping or moving a member of a listed threatened species or ecological
community are illegal without a permit.
As of 30 July 2013, 1756 species and 62 ecological communities were
listed under the EPBC Act. The numbers of species and communities listed in the
various categories are set out in the tables below.
Table 1: Number of threatened species in each listed
category under the EPBC Act
Extinct in the wild
Table 2: Number of threatened ecological communities in
each listed category under the EPBC Act
24 ecological communities
37 ecological communities
1 ecological community
The minister must ensure that there is approved conservation advice for
each listed threatened species and ecological community (with the exception of
those that are listed as extinct or conservation dependent). A conservation
advice provides guidance on immediate recovery and threat abatement activities
that can be undertaken to ensure the conservation of a newly listed species or
Recovery plans may also be made for listed threatened species and
ecological communities. Since amendments to the EPBC Act in 2006, it is no
longer compulsory for the minister to make recovery plans for each listed
threatened species and ecological community.
Rather, the minister must decide whether to have a recovery plan for a species
or community within 90 days after it becomes listed. The minister may, at any
other time, decide whether to have a recovery plan for the species or
A recovery plan must provide for research and management actions
necessary to stop the decline of, and support the recovery of, the listed
threatened species or ecological community concerned so that its chances of
survival in nature are maximised.
A recovery plan or threat abatement plan can be made by the minister
alone or jointly with relevant states and territories, or the minister can
adopt a state or territory plan. Before a plan is made or adopted, there must
be public consultation and advice from the TSSC about the plan.
A Commonwealth agency must not take any action that contravenes a
The minister may make financial assistance available to state
governments and individuals to implement recovery plans.
As of 30 June 2012, 460 recovery plans were in place under the EPBC Act
and 124 recovery plans were under preparation.
The EPBC Act also provides for the maintenance of a register of critical
habitat—that is, habitat that is identified by the minister as being critical
to the survival of a listed threatened species or ecological community. The
register only has practical effect within Commonwealth areas.
However, Commonwealth land that includes listed critical habitat must, should
it be leased or sold, have a covenant protecting the critical habitat included
in the contract.
As of July 2013, there were five areas of critical habitat listed under
the register of critical habitat. The most recent listing of critical habitat
was in 2005.
The EPBC Act also provides for the identification and listing of 'key threatening
A threatening process is defined as a process that threatens or may threaten
the survival, abundance or evolutionary development of a native species or
For example, invasive species listed as key threatening processes are predation
by the European red fox, feral rabbits or unmanaged goats.
The listing process is essentially the same as for the listing of species and
ecological communities, as outlined above.
Once a threatening process is listed under the EPBC Act, a threat
abatement plan can be put into place if it is shown to be 'a feasible,
effective and efficient way' to abate the threatening process.
Threat abatement plans provide for the research, management, and any other
actions necessary to reduce the impact of a listed key threatening process on
native species and ecological communities.
The minister must ensure a threat abatement plan is in force for a key
threatening process only if the minister decides that a plan is a feasible,
effective and efficient way of abating the process. The minister must consult
with the TSSC and any relevant state or territory government, before making
such a decision.
As with recovery plans, a threat abatement plan can be made by the
minister alone or jointly with relevant states and territories, or the minister
can adopt a state or territory plan. Before a plan is made or adopted, there
must be public consultation and advice from the TSSC about the plan.
As of July 2013, there were 20 listed key threatening processes and 14
approved threat abatement plans in place under the EPBC Act.
Each state and territory also has its own legislative regime to protect
threatened species. Not all regimes provide for the protection of ecological
communities. The table below sets out the primary piece of legislation
governing threatened species in each state or territory. There is also a range
of other legislation relevant to threatened species protection, such as
planning legislation and vegetation management legislation. The submission from
the Australian Network of Environmental Defender's Offices (ANEDO) contains a
comprehensive summary and review of relevant state and territory legislation.
Table 3: List of relevant state and territory threatening
Primary legislation governing threatening species
New South Wales
Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 (NSW)
Nature Conservation Act 1992 (Qld)
Threatened Species Protection Act 1995 (Tas)
National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972 (SA)
Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 (Vic) 
Wildlife Conservation Act 1950 (WA)
Nature Conservation Act 1980 (ACT)
Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 2000 (NT)
Other key Commonwealth policy documents and funding arrangements
relating to the protection of threatened species and ecological communities
the Caring for our Country program;
the Clean Energy Future's Biodiversity Fund;
Australia's Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2010-2030;
- One Land - Many Stories: Prospectus of
Australia's Native Vegetation Framework.
As outlined earlier, listing of species and ecological communities under
the EPBC Act makes them a priority for Commonwealth funding and management,
such as through the Caring for our Country initiative, and its predecessor, the
Natural Heritage Trust.
The Natural Heritage Trust was established in 1997 and invested over
$3 billion in activities to help restore and conserve Australia's
environment and natural resources. This included, for example, funding for the Threatened
Species Network from 1997–2008, which provided advice and supported projects
relating to threatened species.
In 2008, the government established Caring for our Country as the Commonwealth
government's 'flagship' environment protection and sustainable agriculture
initiative. Caring for our Country is managed jointly by the Department of
Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (SEWPAC) and the
Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.
In its first five years (from July 2008 to June 2013), the Commonwealth government
planned to invest $2.25 billion through Caring for our Country to secure
improved strategic outcomes across six national priority areas:
the National Reserve System;
biodiversity and natural icons;
coastal environments and critical aquatic habitats;
sustainable farm practices;
natural resource management in northern and remote Australia, and
community skills, knowledge and engagement.
The Environmental Stewardship Program is part of the Caring for our
Country initiative: the program aims to maintain and/or improve the condition
and extent of targeted matters of national environmental significance under the
The Environmental Stewardship Program offers funding rounds through
which eligible private land managers can apply to provide a range of agreed
management activities to protect, rehabilitate and improve particular
ecological communities. Eligible land managers include farmers, Indigenous
communities, and other managers of private freehold and leasehold land.
Successful land managers are contracted to manage targeted matters of
national environmental significance on their land and can receive funding for
activities that are additional to their normal legislative responsibilities,
for up to 15 years. Relevant management activities could include: reducing
stocking and grazing intensity; reducing fertilizer use; expanding weed
management; undertaking or expanding replanting of native species (relevant to
the ecological community).
More recently, in July 2011, the government announced a Biodiversity
Fund to invest around $946 million over the next six years for a range of
projects to 'foster and preserve biodiversity around Australia'.
The Biodiversity Fund is a program under the Commonwealth government's Land
Sector Package of the Clean Energy Future plan. The Biodiversity Fund invests
in three main areas:
Biodiverse plantings—to help land managers expand native habitat
on their property through planting mixed vegetation species appropriate to the
Protecting and enhancing existing native vegetation—to support
land managers to protect, manage and enhance existing native vegetation in high
conservation areas on their land for its carbon storage and biodiversity
Managing threats to biodiversity—to control the threat of
invasive pests and weeds in a connected landscape.
The website for the Biodiversity Fund explains that:
The Biodiversity Fund complements other government programs,
such as Caring for our Country, that contribute to building landscape
connectivity and resilience. It will provide incentives for activities that
deliver biodiversity and environmental benefits by supporting the restoration
and/or management of biodiverse landscapes.
Current funding for biodiversity conservation, provided
through the Caring for our Country initiative, is focused primarily on the
restoration and protection of nationally significant threatened species and
ecological communities, as well as the control of Weeds of National
The Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council, which consists of
the Commonwealth, state, territory and New Zealand government ministers
responsible for primary industries, natural resources, environment and water
policy produced Australia's Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2010-2030
(the Biodiversity Strategy). The Biodiversity Strategy identifies the main
threats to Australia's biodiversity, including:
habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation;
unsustainable use and management of natural resources;
changes to the aquatic environment and water flows;
changing fire regimes; and
The Biodiversity Strategy also identifies a range of priorities for
action. It also sets out 10 national targets to be achieved through the strategy
by 2015. These include, for example, to:
achieve a national increase of 600 000km2 of native
habitat managed primarily for biodiversity conservation across terrestrial,
aquatic and marine environments;
reduce by at least 10% the impacts of invasive species on
threatened species and ecological communities in terrestrial, aquatic and
all jurisdictions will review relevant legislation, policies and
programs to maximise alignment with Australia's Biodiversity Conservation
establish a national long-term biodiversity monitoring and
One Land - Many
Stories: Prospectus of Investment
In December 2012, SEWPAC released the national
biodiversity conservation 'prospectus', One Land—Many Stories: Prospectus of
Investment, which 'presents the Australian Government's visions for
conserving and managing Australia's valuable and most vulnerable environments'.
The SEWPAC website reports that:
This Prospectus provides an overarching
framework of the Australian Government's priorities for funding conservation
and improving natural resource management in 2013–14. This Prospectus
articulates the places (target areas), national priorities (investment themes)
and the available grant funding to guide the development of project proposals
in the 2013–14 round of biodiversity conservation and natural resource
management investment across the Australian Government environment portfolio.
In December 2012, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG)
Standing Council on Environment and Water released Australia's
Native Vegetation Framework. The framework will 'guide native vegetation management across the
Australian landscape. The framework's vision is that 'native vegetation is
managed in an ecologically sustainable way that promotes its enduring
environmental, economic, social, cultural and spiritual values'. The framework
sets five national goals:
- Goal 1: Increase the
national extent and connectivity of native vegetation.
- Goal 2: Maintain and
improve the condition and function of native vegetation.
- Goal 3: Maximise the
native vegetation benefits of ecosystem service markets.
- Goal 4: Build capacity
to understand, value and manage native vegetation.
- Goal 5: Advance the
engagement and inclusion of Indigenous peoples in management of native
There have been several inquiries and reviews in recent years that are
relevant to the terms of reference of this inquiry. These include:
the Australian National Audit Office Audit Report 2006–07 on the
Conservation and Protection of National Threatened Species and Ecological
Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Communication and the
Arts—The operation of the Environment Protection and Conservation Act 1999,
First Report (March 2009);
- The Australian Environment Act—Report of the
Independent Review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation
Act 1999 (also known as the Hawke review);
Senate Environment and Communications References Committee, The
Koala—saving our national icon (September 2011); and
Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee, Environment
Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Emergency Listings)
Bill 2011 (March 2012).
Relevant findings from these inquiries are discussed below.
In March 2007, the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) reported on
its performance audit of the then Department of the Environment and Water
Resources. The audit report was titled The Conservation and Protection of
National Threatened Species and Ecological Communities. The object of the
audit was to assess and report on the administration of the EPBC Act by the
department in terms of protecting and conserving threatened species and
threatened ecological communities in Australia.
The ANAO identified a range of shortcomings in the department's
administration of the EPBC Act, some of which have arguably been resolved by
amendments to the EPBC Act in 2006.
However, the ANAO recommended that efforts be increased to improve the accuracy
and completeness of the list of threatened species and ecological communities,
and to ensure to the extent practicable that the national list of threatened
species and ecological communities is regularly updated and aligned with
changes in state and territory lists.
In 2009, this committee's predecessor, the Senate Standing Committee on
Environment, Communications and the Arts conducted an inquiry into the
'operation of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act
1999 and other natural resource protection programmes'.
As part of that inquiry the committee considered the protection of
threatened species and ecological communities under the EPBC Act. The committee
heard concerns about whether the EPBC Act was effective in affording protection
to listed species and communities, as well as concerns about the listing and
recovery planning process.
In particular, the committee received evidence from submitters concerned about
delays in the listing process and questioning whether some nominations had been
The committee was concerned that the ministerial discretion and indefinite
extensions of time for the assessment of threatened species and ecological
communities undermine the credibility of the listing process. Accordingly the
committee recommended that:
...the process for nomination and listing of threatened
species or ecological communities be amended to improve transparency, rigour
and timeliness. Changes that should be considered include:
Either requiring publication of the Scientific Committee's
proposed priority list or reducing ministerial discretion to revise the
priority list under section 194K; and
Reducing the maximum period allowed for an assessment under
In the government response to the committee's report, the government
agreed in principle to this recommendation, stating that it supports 'increased
transparency in the species listing processes' and that:
...the Australian Government has agreed to the establishment of
a single list of nationally threatened species and ecological communities. The
Government will be working with state and territory governments to establish a
harmonised listing process.
The government's response noted that the minister had requested that Dr Allan Hawke
consider the findings and recommendations of the Senate inquiry in his 'Independent
Review of the EPBC Act' (the Hawke review, which is discussed further below).
The government response further stated that the recommendations of the Hawke
review had 'taken into account the recommendations of the Senate Inquiry'.
On 31 October 2008, the then Minister for the Environment, Heritage and
the Arts, the Hon Peter Garrett AM MP commissioned an independent review of the
EPBC Act which was headed by Dr Allan Hawke (the Hawke review).
The review was undertaken in accordance with section 522A of the EPBC
Act, which required an independent review of the operation of the EPBC Act
within 10 years of its commencement.
The final report of the independent review was published in October
2009. The Australian Environment Act—Report of
the Independent Review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity
Conservation Act 1999 made 71 recommendations over a wide range of
areas, all aimed at improving the operation the EPBC Act.
On 24 August 2011 the Commonwealth government released its response to the
The government responded to all 71 recommendations, and agreed to most of the
recommendations relating to threatened species and ecological communities.
The report made a number of recommendations aimed at better alignment of
Commonwealth, state and territory processes, including moving to a single list
of national list of threatened species and communities (recommendation 5), and
accreditation of state and territory processes where they meet appropriate
standards (recommendation 4).
A table of key recommendations relating to the threatened species and
ecological communities provisions of the EPBC Act, and the government response
to those recommendations, is set out below.
Table 4: Key recommendations and government responses relating
to the threatened species and ecological communities provisions of the EPBC Act
That the Commonwealth work with the states and territories as
appropriate to improve the efficiency of the environmental impact assessment
(EIA) regime under the EPBC Act, including through:
(1) greater use of strategic assessments;
(2) accreditation of state and territory processes where
they meet appropriate standards;
(3) accreditation of environmental management systems
for Commonwealth agencies where the systems meet appropriate standards;
(4) publication of criteria for systems and processes
that would be appropriate for accreditation;
(5) creation of a Commonwealth monitoring, performance audit
and oversight power to ensure that any process accredited achieves the
outcomes it claimed to accomplish;
(6) streamlining and simplification of assessment
methods, including combining assessment by preliminary documentation and
assessment on referral information and removal of assessment by Public
(7) establishing joint state or territory and
Commonwealth assessment panels;
(8) use of joint assessment panels
or public inquiry for projects where the proponent is either the state or territory
or Australian Government; and
(9) greater use of public inquiries
and joint assessment panels for major projects.
Australian, state and territory
governments move to a single national list of threatened species, including
marine species and ecological communities, through accreditation of State and
Territory processes for listing endemic species
Expand the role of strategic assessments and bioregional plans so
that they are used more often; and strengthen the process for creating these
plans and undertaking these assessments, so that they are more substantial
Agreed in substance
Include 'ecosystems of
national significance' as a matter of national environmental significance
Agreed in substance
Require the identification
of critical habitat for listed threatened species at the time of listing; and
the discontinuation of the register of critical habitat once information
about critical habitat has been included in listing document
Require the Threatened
Species Scientific Committee to indicate in the listing process the areas
necessary for an ecological community to persist and maintain its ecological
Include vulnerable ecological communities as a matter of national
environmental significance protected under Part 3
Require the Environment
Minister, in deciding whether to list a threatened species or ecological
community, to take the principles of ecologically sustainable development
into account only in exceptional situations where social or economic costs
associated with listing are overwhelming and the environmental benefits are
known to be slight
Give the Environment
Minister the power to make emergency listings of threatened species and
ecological communities under certain circumstances
Agreed in principle
Allow greater flexibility
in the development of recovery and threat abatement plans, particularly to
allow for their development at regional scales; and create opportunities for
better linkages to funding initiatives
Agreed in part
Better define key
threatening processes (KTPs); allow greater flexibility in the criteria for
eligibility for listing a KTP; and allow strategic identification of KTPs at
a range of scales
Provide for greater
flexibility in the development and implementation of Threat Abatement Plans
and allow transition to regional planning approaches and strategic threat
Require the development of
a ‘threat abatement advice’ at the time of listing a KTP
Develop criteria and
management protocols for the movement of potentially damaging exotic species,
including a list of 'controlled' species and identify emerging threats
Agreed in part
On 24 August 2011, the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water,
Population and Communities, the Hon Tony Burke MP announced 'the first major
overhaul' of the EPBC Act as part of the government's response to the Hawke
review. The reforms include:
A more proactive approach to protecting Australia's
environment through more strategic assessments and regional environmental
Identifying and protecting ecosystems of national
significance under the EPBC Act through regional environment plans, strategic
assessments or conservation agreements to protect the most significant and
healthy ecosystems before they are threatened or degraded.
New national standards for accrediting environmental impact
assessments and approvals to better align Commonwealth and state systems.
...Establishing a single national list of threatened species
and ecological communities to reduce inconsistencies between jurisdictions.
...Development of an environmental offsets policy to better
explain to proponents and the community how offsets are assessed and what would
be acceptable under specific proposals. A draft policy has been released today
for consultation with industry and communities.
The submission from SEWPAC states that 'amendments to the EPBC Act are
proposed to be introduced to Parliament in 2013'.
However, in the Federal Budget in May 2013, the government announced that it
made a decision to delay the introduction of relevant amendments to the EPBC
Act until 1 July 2014.
The committee also notes that in April 2012, COAG announced that it
would reform the administration of national environmental regulation in order
to reduce duplication and double-handling while maintaining high environmental
standards. To do this, COAG agreed to prioritise the development of approval
bilateral agreements under the EPBC Act.
On 7 December 2012, COAG again considered issues related to reform of
environmental regulation, and instead agreed that all jurisdictions will:
...direct their regulatory and referral agencies to eliminate
duplication and to avoid sequential assessments and delayed approval processes
and also to utilise common information requirements for both assessments and
While it was anticipated that COAG may have announced at this meeting its
intention to give the states and territories increased powers for approvals,
this did not occur.
The current Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Water,
the Hon Mark Butler MP, has recently stated that the
Commonwealth government is now 'committed to an approvals process that leaves
the final decision-making in the hands of the federal environment minister'.
In September 2011, this committee reported on its inquiry into the
status, health and sustainability of Australia's koala population. That report
considered issues including threats to koala habitat, the status of the koala
under state and federal environmental protection laws, including whether the
koala should be listed as a threatened species under the EPBC Act.
While that inquiry related to just one species, the committee
recommended more broadly, among other matters, that:
...the Threatened Species Scientific Committee provide clearer
information to the Environment Minister in all future threatened species
listing advices, including species population information, and that the
Threatened Species Scientific Committee review its advice to the Minister on
the listing of the koala in light of the findings of this inquiry.
The committee also recommended that:
...the Australian Government establish a nationally coordinated
and integrated program for population monitoring of threatened species and
other culturally, evolutionary and/or economically significant species.
The committee also noted that certain mechanisms announced as part of
the government response to the Hawke review 'could potentially facilitate a
more proactive approach' to koala conservation.
It is noted that the koala was listed in the 'vulnerable' category under the
EPBC Act in April 2012.
In March 2012, the Environment and Communications Legislation Committee
reported on a private Senator's bill – the Environment Protection and
Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Emergency Listings) Bill 2011. The
bill sought to amend the EPBC Act to:
provide for the emergency listing of threatened species and
ecological communities where they are at risk from a significant and imminent
amend section 158A of the EPBC Act to stipulate that species and
ecological communities that are listed via the emergency provisions are
afforded protection throughout the environmental assessment process and under
development proposals already approved by the minister.
During its inquiry, the committee heard support for an emergency listing
process and concerns about the delays in the nomination and listing process.
The committee recommended that the bill not be passed, but gave in principle
support to the emergency listing provisions of the bill and noted the Commonwealth
government's intent to introduce similar legislation into the Parliament.
As noted above, the submission from SEWPAC stated that 'amendments to the EPBC
Act are proposed to be introduced to Parliament in 2013'.
However, in the Federal Budget in May 2013, the government announced that it
made a decision to delay the introduction of relevant amendments to the EPBC
Act until 1 July 2014.
EPBC (Approval Powers) Bill
Most recently, in March 2013, the Senate Environment and Communications
Legislation Committee considered the Environment Protection and Biodiversity
Conservation Amendment (Retaining Federal Approval Powers) Bill 2012. The
purpose of the bill was to prevent the Commonwealth from delegating its current
powers under the EPBC Act for approving proposed actions that significantly
impact on matters of national environmental significance to the states and territories.
That bill was put forward as a response to announcements by COAG to reform the
administration of national environment regulation to reduce duplication.
Among other matters, that report recommended that the bill not be
passed, noting that the Commonwealth intends to introduce legislative reforms
to progress its response to the Hawke review under the EPBC Act to further
streamline and strengthen environmental regulation.
As noted in paragraphs 1.76–1.78, this issue has also been considered COAG
and the current Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Water has since
stated that the Commonwealth government is now 'committed to an approvals
process that leaves the final decision‑making in the hands of the federal
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