Press Release - May 29, 2024

‘Not good enough’: EPA Bill prompts calls for integrity and urgent reforms to halt extinctions

Leading environment groups from across the country have called for a national Environmental Protection Agency that delivers integrity and urgent reforms to address the extinction and deforestation crises in response to the Albanese government’s Environment Protection Australia Bill, tabled today in Parliament.

The Wilderness Society, Environmental Justice Australia, and the Conservation Council of WA say the proposed new EPA lacks accountability and will be vulnerable to continued interference from vested interests, without an independent board.

The groups are calling for both strengthening of the proposed EPA model and key urgent reforms to address deforestation and protect critical habitat of threatened species.

EPA bill lacks integrity

The groups are calling for key integrity measures for the EPA to be added to the Bill to safeguard against political interference, including:

  • An independent board, which would appoint the EPA’s CEO
  • Clear duties and objectives
  • Effective public participation in decision-making and strong civil enforcement provisions
  • Adequate funding.

The environment groups say the Bill fails to require the EPA to ensure the public has a fair say in environmental decisions. If the EPA is not required to oversee meaningful public consultation, there will be worse outcomes for people and nature.

In Western Australia, the state EPA has been undermined by industry pressure on the government to fast-track development approvals at nature’s expense. The Conservation Council of WA says this underlines the need for a fully independent federal EPA that has the legal and regulatory tools it requires.

Broken laws fail to address extinction and deforestation

Echoing the recommendations of the Senate inquiry into Australia’s extinction crisis in an interim report released late last week, the organisations say that strong reforms are needed in this term of government to fix Australia’s broken environment laws and stop the deforestation that is fueling Australia’s extinction crisis.

However, the Albanese government has indefinitely delayed the remainder of environmental law reform, leaving the EPA to administer an Act that the government itself describes as “broken”.

The groups are calling on the government to seize the opportunity with these bills to pass key amendments to the existing law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), to rein in the unsupervised mass bulldozing and logging of Australia’s special forests.

Urgent reform is needed to compel impact assessments of deforestation by the EPA and protect critical habitat that’s home to threatened forest wildlife like the koala, the greater glider and the swift parrot.

This includes ending the exemptions in the Act provided by Regional Forest Agreements (which carve out native forest logging from the Act) and “continuations of use” exemptions (which enable unsupervised mass land clearing).

Victoria Jack, Campaigner for the Wilderness Society said:

“The Albanese government promised its reforms will improve trust and confidence in decisions about developments and the environment.

But the trees are still being bulldozed, and the community’s demands that forests are protected are continuously ignored, including some First Nations’ requests that forest Country is protected from logging.

At a minimum, the EPA must be unambiguously charged with ensuring the integrity of consultation.

The public must be able to have a fair say about environmental decisions that will affect them. Transparency, genuine consultation, and the ability to challenge bad decisions are not only internationally recognised rights but are also integral to the protection of nature for the benefit of all—not just for the benefit of vested interests.”

Jess Beckerling, Executive Director of the Conservation Council of WA said:

WA’s nature is experiencing the devastating impacts of the climate and biodiversity crisis right now. Record heat and drought have caused widespread forest collapse, mass turtle deaths and penguin colony collapse in recent weeks.

For the proposed federal EPA to function, it requires the promised nature law reform that the Albanese government has so far not delivered. There is little point having a new body to administer old laws that do not work.

We have seen in WA how industry pressure on the government can undermine the strength and capacity of the EPA. This underlines the need for a fully independent federal EPA that has the legal and regulatory tools it needs to genuinely protect nature.

We need to strengthen our nature laws to stop fossil fuel expansion and defend the places we love.”

EJA Special Counsel Danya Jacobs said:

“The current Act wholly fails to address deforestation, despite mass clearing of known endangered species habitat.

The exemptions for deforestation in the Act need to end now, and reforms to protect critical habitat can't wait.

As it stands, the government’s plan for the EPA is one king decision maker at the top, appointed on the advice of the Minister and answerable to no one.

The EPA boss must be accountable to an independent board of qualified members, to safeguard this critical new agency from the influence of powerful vested interests and their lobbyists who have undermined good environmental governance in this country for too long.”