Posted on August 29, 2011 by Frances Tse

Reform of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999

On 24 August 2011, the Federal Government announced that it will significantly reform national environmental laws in response to an independent review of the Environment Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) (Act) prepared by Allan Hawkes AC in October 2009.

The reforms are based on four key themes:

  1. a shift from individual project approvals to a strategic approach,
  2. streamlined assessment and approval processes,
  3. better identification of national environmental assets, and
  4. cooperative national standards and guidelines to harmonise approaches between jurisdictions and foster cooperation with all stakeholders.

Strategic approach

A key reform proposed is the shift in focus from assessment at the individual project level to an emphasis on strategic planning and ecosystem-scale management in order to consider impacts on and protect the environment across whole landscapes.

Strategic assessments of plans, policies and programs, preparation and implementation of regional environmental plans and conservation agreements is envisaged.

Proposed regional environmental plans for example, will identify at a regional scale, where development can occur, and which areas are environmentally important.

Streamlined processes

The strategic approach will also have the effect of streamlining the environmental assessment of development by reducing the need for environmental impact assessments for certain projects that meet the requirements of regional environmental plans.

Other proposals to streamline the assessment process include the publication of a self-assessment tool, and clear guidance documentation to enable proponents to have a clearer understanding of the process.

It is expected that under this strategic and streamlined approach, projects with low impact will be able to be determined within 35 business day where the proponent provides all necessary documentation.

Better identification of national environmental assets

It is proposed that in addition to protection of threatened species and endangered ecological communities, reforms will be made to ensure protection of healthy ‘nationally significant ecosystems’.

These ‘nationally significant ecosystems’ will be listed through the strategic planning process and will include ecosystems that have high natural values and that are considered important for Australia’s long-term future.

Cooperative national standards and guidelines

Improved cooperation between the Federal and State Governments and with the community will be implemented in a number of ways:

  • A national standard for environmental impact assessment is proposed. This recommendation follows on from the Council of Australian Government’s (COAG) new national reform agenda for environmental regulation.
  • A nationally consistent approach to biodiversity banking is also proposed which will encourage cooperation across jurisdictions.
  • The Federal Government has also published a consultation draft of its EPBC Act Environmental Offsets Policy. This policy will provide proponents with clear guidance on the Government’s expectations for offsets.
  • A single list for protected species and ecological communities, rather than separate lists for Commonwealth and States will be developed.
  • The Government has also published a consultation draft of its Biodiversity Policy. This policy will provide the public with a clear understanding of the Government’s approach to biodiversity.
  • A new National Centre for Cooperation on Environment and Development is proposed to be established. This centre will be a neutral forum for industry, scientists, non-government organisations and governments to work together to develop national environmental standards, guidelines, procedures and policies to support the Act.

Cost recovery

A cost recovery process is proposed to be developed to allow proponents to contribute to the cost of assessments. A consultation paper on the new cost recovery procedures will be released for discussion.

We will provide detailed commentary once a draft bill is released.