Conclusions and recommendations
Australia is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, with a
rich variety of fauna. Our biodiverse environment is central to our wellbeing,
the health of our economy, and our national identity. While Australia is home
to several iconic species known around the globe, we also have many species we
are yet to fully understand. Estimates suggest that, at present, there are
250 000 faunal species in Australia, with around 120 000 of these yet
to be scientifically documented and described.
However, against the richness of Australia's natural environment, our
damning track record of faunal extinction and decreasing biodiversity is stark.
The most recent State of the Environment Report observes a continuing
trajectory of decline in mammal species, and a very significant slump in
populations of birds, concluding that:
Based on the information available about
vegetation extent and condition, and the small number of species for which
there is some understanding of trends in distribution and abundance, the status
of biodiversity in Australia is generally considered poor and deteriorating.
The adequacy of the EPBC Act
This interim report has focussed on the legislative foundation of
Australia's management and protection of the environment over the last two
decades, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act 1999 (EPBC
Evidence received by the committee has raised serious questions about
whether the EPBC Act is still fit for purpose and is in fact achieving the
objectives set out in the Act. It is also clear that the EPBC Act is struggling
to meet the scale of the challenge our environment faces, including the threats
to our faunal species.
Evidence considered in chapter 2 of this report overwhelmingly showed
that Australia's rate of faunal extinction has continued to increase since the
introduction of the EPBC Act.
This evidence indicated that the EPBC Act is incapable of addressing many
of the principal drivers of faunal population decline, even if there have been
positive steps in a number of areas, including managing feral populations.
These drivers are complex and include the loss, degradation and fragmentation
of habitat, the threats posed by invasive species, and the effects of climate
change. It is also clear that the cumulative impacts of these drivers are a
major contributor to species decline, even if these cumulative impacts are
notoriously hard to quantify and address, and that in its current form, the
EPBC Act has no compulsory mechanism to address cumulative impacts.
The committee understands these are complex and inter-linked factors in
species decline, and that the framework of the EPBC Act would need a complete
overhaul to be adequate for the current challenge. The committee also notes
that there have been significant failures in its implementation, including use
and resourcing of compliance and protection mechanisms, and that these would
need to be addressed in a new or revised Act.
The committee heard compelling arguments for the development of a new
Environment Act, as this report discussed in chapter 3. Critics of the EPBC Act
highlighted its complexity, noting that even professionals in the sector found
its provisions difficult. The committee also received evidence on the gradual
dilution of the Act's initial strengths.
The need for new environmental laws and a federal environmental protection
The committee notes that the EPBC Act is 20 years old and has not been
significantly reformed. There is also no independent institution to administer
and oversee Australia's framework for environmental approvals and compliance.
Without new environmental legislation, Australia will continue to
struggle to address the current rates of faunal extinction in the future.
Moreover, it was also evident that the current approach will not be able to
address the ongoing broader challenges to the environment that Australia faces,
including the profound, deepening effects of climate change.
Any new legislation should also seek to incorporate international best
practice, while adapting this to our local needs. New environmental laws should
be developed with a mind to the large volume of work already undertaken on what
changes would be required to effectively address the threats to Australian
New environment laws should be developed with broad consultation, not
only with stakeholders in the environmental sector, but also scientific and
legal experts, industry and employer groups, unions, and the broader Australian
public. As jurisdictions will continue to administer large parts of Australian
environmental law, the states and territories are integral to the development
of any new legal frameworks. The Commonwealth must also recognise the
fundamental role that Indigenous Australians play in environmental management,
and thus in the development of any new environmental legislation.
The committee recommends that to limit the drivers of faunal extinction,
the Commonwealth develop new environmental legislation to replace the Environment
Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
The committee considers that a new legislative approach to managing and
protecting Australia's environment should contain provision for an independent
EPA. This should be given sufficient powers, resourcing and funding to assess
activities, and ensure compliance and enforcement.
The committee recommends that the Commonwealth establish an independent
Environment Protection Agency (EPA), with sufficient powers and funding to
oversee compliance with Australia's environmental laws.
Future work of the committee
This interim report is focussed on setting out some aspects of the broad
challenge faced by Australia's threatened faunal species, as well as
considering the adequacy of the EPBC Act's current provisions for managing
The committee has received a large amount of evidence that it has not
fully considered in this interim report. This includes many instances where the
provisions of the EPBC Act are not being implemented effectively. It also
includes information about many instances where existing laws are failing to
protect threatened species that are at risk of extinction.
Although this report has recommended the Commonwealth develop a new
legislative framework for Australia's environment, the committee notes that the
second statutory review of the EPBC Act is due to commence no later than
October 2019. As developing a new Act will take time, this review will
provide an ideal opportunity to reconsider in depth the adequacy of the EPBC
Act, and where its implementation can improve, including regarding threatened
faunal species, as an interim measure.
The committee will maintain an ongoing interest in this review of the
EPBC Act and its implementation, as well as the development of any new
legislative approach by the Commonwealth.
The committee also notes its hopes that the work undertaken in this
inquiry will be continued in the next Parliament, should the future committee
and Senate agree to do so.
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