Additional comments from the Australian Greens
The Australia Greens welcome the majority committee report’s
in-principle support for this bill.
We are pleased that the inquiry process allowed a thorough
exploration of emergency listings for threatened species and ecological
communities under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation
Act 1999 (EPBC Act), resulting in the recognition that effective protection
is only possible by amending section 158A.
Section 158A of the EPBC Act ensures that once the minister
makes the primary decision on whether an action is a controlled action or not,
that decision is not affected by subsequent listing events. All too often new
species are only discovered through the environmental assessment process, so
precluding their consideration once that early decision is made would negate
protection of threatened species and ecological communities in all but the
rarest of situations.
We note that the bill currently provides that an emergency
listing of a threatened species or ecological community requires such a listing
to be considered throughout the federal environmental assessment process as
well as after development approvals are granted by the minister.
We recognise the concerns of some stakeholders regarding the
possible uncertainties this could introduce for project proponents in
situations where the final approval decision has been granted.
The Greens would naturally like to see all newly discovered
species afforded the highest level of protection no matter when they are
discovered, however any improvement to section 158A will deliver real benefits
for our threatened wildlife. This is particularly the case if we ensure that
the time when these species are most likely to be discovered is within the time
when protection is able to be afforded, rather than access to that protection
closing at the very start of the assessment process when only desktop studies
are likely to have been done. As such we agree to amend the bill to reflect the
recommendation in paragraph 3.62 of the majority report, but strengthening it
There are a number of options for when to 'close the gate'
to emergency listings – that is, the point in the approval process when the minister
must disregard a new emergency listing. The majority report recommends that
this should occur at a point during the assessment period.
We consider that at the end of the assessment period – the
time of the final approval decision – would be the most ecologically
appropriate time to close the gate. This would ensure that in making the
approval decision the minister can consider any information about the presence
of a new and potentially threatened species discovered through further
information requests (to the proponent, or to any other party – per section 132
of the Act) after the environmental assessment documents were submitted for
decision. This would provide both certainty to industry and ensure potentially
threatened species and ecological communities are appropriately protected. We
accept that any such amendment should apply only to prospective projects and
not to projects that have already been referred under the EPBC Act.
We wish to thank all the submitters and witnesses at the
inquiry hearing for their valuable contribution on this issue, and to recognise
the many non-government organisations who work tirelessly to ensure our precious
endangered species get the protection they need. We also wish to thank the secretariat
for their support in undertaking this inquiry.
1.1 That the bill be amended to 'close the gate' for emergency listing for
threatened species and ecological communities at the time of the final approval
1.2 That the bill as amended be passed.
Senator Larissa Waters
Senator for Queensland
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