Press Release - July 4, 2024

Broken promises create a weak environment watchdog

Lawyers from Environmental Justice Australia say the federal Albanese government today broke its promise to establish a robust Environment Protection Authority (EPA) with sufficient independence and power to protect Australia’s rarest animals, plants and precious wild places.  

The Environment Protection Australia and the Environment Information Australia bills were today voted through the lower house without any of the amendments proposed by independent MPs that would have addressed its glaring shortcomings. The result? A weaker environmental watchdog that will be vulnerable to political interference from the mining and fossil fuel sector. 

Environmental Justice Australia lawyers believe the federal government has missed this once-in-a-generation opportunity to establish an EPA with the power to halt Australia's rampant deforestation crisis, stop species extinction and ensure climate change is front and centre in all decision-making. 

Environmental Justice Australia encourages Australian senators to make simple changes to the bills when it comes before them in August, which would strengthen the EPA.  

Danya Jacobs, Special Counsel at Environmental Justice Australia, said: 

“This is a bitter disappointment – a wasted opportunity to deliver an independent, science-based EPA that would have enforced laws to better protect our precious environment.” 

“We are extremely concerned that there is nothing to protect this EPA from being headed by a government-appointed mining boss, let alone safeguard it from powerful industry lobbies.” 

“After a decade of woeful federal leadership, the community hoped this government’s environmental reform agenda would deliver a robust EPA to protect Australia’s environment in the coming decades during a climate and extinction crisis.” 

“Senators should look carefully at making targeted amendments that would end deforestation exemptions, mandate scrutiny of climate impacts, and protect critical habitat.”

Deforestation drives extinction 

At April’s Senate extinction inquiry, the independent reviewer of Australia’s environment laws, Professor Graeme Samuel, described the EPBC Act’s continued exemptions for native forest logging as a “shocker” that “should never have been introduced” and that “we ought to get rid of”. Deforestation loopholes also allow for the continuous bulldozing of Australia’s forests and bushland for agriculture to go unchecked.  

The new EPA, established by the bills that passed the lower house today, will enforce broken laws. These laws have allowed an average of 545,000 hectares of forest and bushland to be destroyed each year over the past 10 years. This is the equivalent of an MCG-sized area destroyed every two minutes. Yet, deforestation is almost totally unregulated under the current EPBC Act.  

The government voted against amendments to end these exemptions, ensure deforestation is assessed for its harm to threatened species, and empower the EPA to reject unacceptable impacts on threatened species to safeguard critical habitat. 

Critical moment for integrity  

This model the government has passed places one boss at the top of the EPA who is individually responsible for approval decisions. This person will be appointed to a five-year term on the recommendation of the environment minister. There are no institutional checks and balances in place to protect that person from pressure from the same powerful vested interests that have prevented good environmental decision-making to date.  

The government has ignored long-standing calls for the EPA to be governed by an independent board of qualified members, to whom the EPA boss is accountable. It voted against all amendments put by Teals to embed integrity in the EPA.  

Climate crisis ignored 

The EPBC Act will also remain silent on climate change. The government’s bills fail to require the EPA to assess greenhouse gas emissions from new fossil fuel projects, and do not empower the EPA to reject unacceptable climate impacts.  

Media contact:

Miki Perkins[email protected] or 03 8341 3110