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Let’s change the laws for nature
We live in a truly special country. But weak environment laws and government inaction have made Australia a world leader in extinction and deforestation.
Campaign manager, Suzanne Milthorpe, gives an overview of where Australia's nature laws are at.
The Government has run a once-in-a-decade review of Australia’s failed national environment laws. This is a chance to deal with Australia’s appalling extinction record by bringing in strong new national nature laws that work and independent watchdog to enforce them.
In July 2020, the Environment Minister outlined how the government intended to respond to an interim review of our nature laws: the Commonwealth wants the states to implement environmental standards, with no independent watchdog to enforce them. But it’s not clear if the government can or will get those standards in place before it hands responsibilities to the states, or how it will ensure the states actually follow them.
On 23 November 2020 we appeared in front of the Senate Committee into the Morrison Government’s dodgy changes to our national environment law, the EPBC Act. The Senate Committee heard from 4,400 people who put in a submission to the inquiry in just 48 hours! The Senate needed to see a massive swell of submissions opposing the Government's bill and calling for a meaningful response to the independent review of our environment laws.The Wilderness Society appeared in front of the Senate Committee into the Morrison Government’s dodgy changes to our national environment law, the EPBC Act.
On 28 January, Environment Minister Sussan Ley finally released the long-awaited report of the Independent Review of Australia’s environment laws by Professor Graeme Samuel AC.
The Samuel Review makes 38 recommendations for a package of reforms to the EPBC Act, including 22 priorities for immediate action, which it considers necessary to resolve the fundamental inadequacies leading to Australia’s growing environmental decline. These include:
- Implement legally binding national environment standards that clearly protect wildlife, critical habitat and World and national heritage.
- End dangerous exemptions for destructive practices like native forest logging.
- Establish an independent watchdog to enforce our laws fairly and transparently to protect nature and communities, not vested interests.
- Work with First Nations people to properly protect cultural heritage and recognise and meaningfully consider Traditional Ecological Knowledge in conservation decisions.
- Strengthen community rights so we can meaningfully participate in decisions about protecting our environment and legal rights to challenge bad or poorly made decisions.
The Independent Review of the EPBC is clear: this Review shows that the system is broken and only fundamental reform of our national environment laws will turn around Australia’s extinction crisis and safeguard our iconic natural and cultural heritage.
Please email Minister Ley today and urge the Government listen to the experts and the community and take real action to end the extinction and deforestation crisis.
Australia’s failed national environment law
The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC) is Australia’s national environment law. It has a very important job. The EPBC is meant to stop threats to important habitat for threatened species like the Tasmanian devil, koala, platypus and Leadbeater's possum, safeguard our natural places and ensure all governments work together to protect Australia’s environment and natural diversity of life.
If we had strong national environment laws, the Bramble Cay melomys would still be here. The government failed to fund the recovery plan that should have saved it from the effects of climate change.
And now, following the devastating 2019-2020 bushfire season, even animals like the relatively common sugar glider could be under threat having lost so much habitat. So now more than ever we need to stop major threats to forests and habitat like logging and deforestation.
Yet our current protections and laws leave many of Australia's animals facing extinction. The Government is required to review the EPBC every ten years, which it did in 2019-2020. As part of the process, we sought to get as many community submissions as possible made into this review, to tell the Government that we expect strong new nature laws. Many of our supporters have added their voices and stories about why nature is important to them by making a public submission to the review.
They're people like Annie from Brisbane, who used her Movement For Life training to generate 26 submissions from her community. The Wilderness Society also made a submission outlining the essential changes required to the EPBC Act if it is to serve its purpose protecting Australia's wildlife and wilderness.
The EPBC Act report
On 20 July 2020, the independent reviewer looking at the EPBC Act, Professor Graeme Samuel, released his interim report for the review. He found that ‘Australia’s natural environment and iconic places are in an overall state of decline and are under increasing threat’ and that communities do ‘not trust the EPBC Act to deliver for the environment’.
The report noted that to restore that community trust, we need:
- Binding, enforceable and high-bar National Environmental Standards that clearly set out what’s off-limits for destruction
- An independent watchdog to monitor the impact of projects and ensure the law is enforced
- Communities to have free access to information about decisions, the opportunity to substantively engage in decision-making and the right to challenge bad decisions taken by Government
On the same day, Environment Minister Sussan Ley outlined how the Government will respond to the review. The Morrison Government will rush to hand the Commonwealth’s environment responsibilities to the states on the understanding that they will implement national environmental standards on behalf of the Australian Government. But it’s not clear if they can or will get those standards in place before they hand their responsibilities to the states or how they’ll ensure the states actually follow them.
The Government also ruled out an independent watchdog to ensure the law is enforced equally for everyone, even state governments.
The Federal Government is essentially asking us to trust them with immediately handing environmental safeguards to the states while promising—at some time in the future—to make changes of an ill-defined nature to improve environmental standards. This is not on, and will only lock in more extinction, more loss and more destruction.
On On 28 January, the Government finally released the final report from Professor Graeme Samuel. Read more about the final report and what the Government must do to deliver nature laws that work.
Having strong, effective environment laws is vitally important as right now Australia leads the world in mammal extinction and is second only to Indonesia for biodiversity loss. We’re seeing the increasing impacts of climate change on our communities and landscapes, including the catastrophic 2019-2020 bushfires and the recent bleaching events on the Barrier Reef.
Email Sussan Ley to urge the Government to save our wildlife and the places we love.
Vested interests are destroying nature
At the heart of the problem is this: our national environment laws are not currently working to protect the environment.
Nothing is off-limits for destruction. Old-growth forests are being bulldozed and logged. Oil drilling still threatens the pristine waters of the Great Australian Bight. Projects that clear the habitats of critically endangered wildlife are rubber-stamped and species are going extinct with no-one taking action to stop it. Vital water catchments are being mined and drained by big businesses with communities powerless to protect their environment.
The EPBC doesn’t even mention or deal with the escalating problem of climate change.
The EPBC is actually locking in environmental destruction. Almost all projects (99.7%) assessed by the Federal Government get rubber-stamped, with just 2% later knocked back by the courts.
How Australian laws have failed nature—and you
Australia’s forests, waterways and wildlife are now in crisis—and once they’re gone, they're gone forever. Consider these facts:
- Australia has the one of the worst rates of species extinction on the planet yet the government keeps turning a blind eye to their continued destruction and it refuses to act to help bring them back from the brink.
- Old growth forests and homes to endangered species are still being clear-felled for woodchips. In fact, 48 of our forest fauna species are threatened by logging in Australia. Read more about Australian species facing extinction.
- Deforestation rates in Australia are now up there with the destruction of the Amazon which kills wildlife and impacts air and water quality in all communities.
- Climate change is wreaking havoc on our river systems, water supplies, forests and the Great Barrier Reef.
- River pollution and over-extraction of water is decimating our water supplies and natural assets like the Murray-Darling and the Great Barrier Reef.
- The opening up of huge new polluting coal, gas and oil mines threatens the health and livelihoods of local communities and continues to worsen climate change.
We need to secure a real future for the native wildlife we care about and protect the forests and landscapes they live in, with cleaner air, more resilient soils, healthy oceans and a climate we can rely on. We need to properly protect and restore our environment so Australia can be resilient in the face of climate change.
To truly protect and restore Australia’s nature, we need a new Australian Environment Act that commits the Australian Government to end deforestation of old-growth forests and critical habitat for endangered animals, to end extinction and to protect our vital waterways and catchments.
We need a National Environment Commission that can be an independent voice for the environment and lead a national approach to planning for the future. The Commission will develop National Environment Plans so:
- We’re all working to the same goals.
- They set binding clear national plans and standards—businesses and communities aren’t dealing with unclear, inconsistent regulation.
We need an independent National Environmental Protection Authority to:
- Enforce the law, without political interference.
- Ensure that damaging projects are assessed independently by experts, not decided on through back room deals with paid lobbyists.
We need to give power back to communities by guaranteeing community legal rights to ensure that environment laws are enforced fairly and transparently, to have decisions reviewed on the basis of their merits and to ensure all communities have a say in decision-making.
- Maintain political pressure on the government to commit to strong nature laws and institutions that actually work to end Australia’s extinction crisis. The focus is on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC) review.
- Undertake research and investigations to expose the crisis in the media.
- Build a broad movement of people for change by inspiring, recruiting, training and supporting experts and volunteers.
- Communicate the challenge through bold, targeted advertising to get key audiences on board with our push for new nature laws and institutions.
- Play active leadership role with the Places You Love Alliance, made up of 54 environmental organisations with a combined 1.5 million supporters, to activate audiences for reform.
- Hold governments accountable to make sure that the new national plans and standards are enacted, enforced and funded to guarantee high-level outcomes.
What success looks like
- Zero destruction of primary, remnant, old growth or high conservation value forests and bushland.
- No more fauna or flora extinctions.
- Measurable recovery of numbers or extent and quality of threatened, endangered and critically endangered species and ecosystems.
- Measurable recovery of freshwater ecosystems, including the Murray-Darling Basin.
- Measurable recovery of large, intact and functioning ecosystems (wilderness areas);
- Twenty percent (20%) of every terrestrial and marine bioregion in Australia are protected in a nationally coordinated and consistent system of conservation agreements.
- Federal Government leads the country in ensuring environmental indicators improve.
- Environmental regulation, planning and decision making independent from political parties. These are adequately resourced to achieve outcomes, conducted transparently and fully enforced.
- Community has legislated right to open standing, merits review and third-party enforcement rights under national environmental laws.
- Community and NGO sector have access to consistent, regularly updated and reliable government data on environmental values and greenhouse gas reporting on disaggregated by sector and between sequestration and emissions.