Environment and Planning 5 Minute Fix 23: offset assessments, circular economy, EPBC referrals

03 Mar 2022
5 minutes

Climate change

Commonwealth: Minister requests a review of offset assessment principles

The Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction, the Hon Angus Taylor MP, has requested that the Climate Change Authority undertake a special review of the use of international carbon offsets in Australia. The request, which the Minister has made under section 59 of the Climate Change Authority Act 2011, specifically seeks advice on the criteria for the use of international offsets under the Australian Government program Climate Active, and for their creation and use under the Indo-Pacific Carbon Offsets Scheme in the context of the Paris Agreement. The detailed scope of the advice sought is set out in the Terms of Reference.

The Climate Change Authority has been requested to provide its advice by 30 June 2022 and it is understood that consultation will occur this month.


Commonwealth: Packaging scheme the next step in developing Australia's circular economy

On 14 February 2022, the Federal Government announced that the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO), a national regulatory framework under the National Environment Protection (Used Packaging Materials) Measure 2011 (NEPM) aimed at reducing the environmental impacts of consumer packaging, had been declared an accredited national product stewardship scheme. Previously a voluntary scheme, APCO is now a "co-regulatory scheme" under the Recycling and Waste Reduction Act 2020 and administered jointly by industry and government.

This new accreditation status will now allow the Minister for the Environment to call on eligible businesses to join APCO to meet their obligations and take responsibility for the environmental impacts of packaging.

More information on the product stewardship accreditation program can be found here.


Commonwealth: Tradable biodiversity certificates for agricultural landholders on the agenda

The Federal Government introduced the Agriculture Biodiversity Stewardship Market Bill into Parliament on 9 February. As discussed in the Explanatory Memorandum, the purpose of the Bill is to establish a legislative framework for a national voluntary agriculture biodiversity stewardship market which is to be primarily administered by the Clean Energy Regulator. If passed, the Bill will:

  • create a nationally consistent framework to describe and measure biodiversity outcomes;
  • enable biodiversity certificates describing biodiversity projects undertaken by agricultural landholders which protect or increase biodiversity in native species to be purchased, transferred, claimed, used and publicly tracked; and
  • establish project assurance and compliance systems to provide certainty to the market.

Environmental protection

Commonwealth: A new way of lodging EPBC referrals – last chance to find out more

The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE) is changing the way they process environmental assessments under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) by introducing a new referral form and online portals in early 2022. The four key areas of change are:

  1. A new online EPBC Act Business Portal and a new referral form for assessment applications.
  2. A new online dedicated EPBC Act Public Portal.
  3. A digital environmental assessment system.
  4. A joint assessment system pilot with Western Australia's Environment Online.

One final webinar will be provided by DAWE focussing on what to expect when the changes go live, as well as what support and guidance will be available. Scheduling and registration information for this webinar can be found here.

Commonwealth: Qld, NSW and ACT koalas now listed as endangered and Senate continues to consider moratorium

On 11 February, the Environment Minister Sussan Ley announced that the conservation status of koalas has been upgraded from vulnerable to endangered for Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory koala populations and will now seek agreement from the affected States on the national recovery plan.

The changed conservation status was recommended by the Threatened Species Scientific Committee and comes at a time when a moratorium on the clearing of koala habitat remains the subject of a Senate inquiry. The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Save the Koala) Bill 2021, a private members bill which was introduced into Parliament and subsequently referred to the Senate Standing Committees on Environment and Communications for inquiry over a year ago, is currently awaiting the Committees report. On the same day the change to the conservation status was announced, the Committee requested a further extension of time to report until 16 May 2022 to allow it to consider the evidence received and to conclude its deliberations.

The Bill, if passed, will prevent the Minister from approving an action under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) where that action consists of or involves the clearing of koala habitat, as well as remove the exemption of Regional Forest Agreements from requirements of the EPBC Act where there is, may, or is likely to be a significant impact on koalas.

QLD: DES releases its 5-year strategy for delivering its regulatory functions and activities

The Department of Environment and Science (DES) has published its Regulation Strategy for 2022 - 2027 (Strategy) which outlines its vision for the administration of its regulatory functions and activities over the next five years under six key focus areas:

  1. Regulate proportionate to risk;
  2. Assessment processes;
  3. Targeted compliance;
  4. Customer focus;
  5. Partnership, science and innovation; and
  6. Communication and engagement.

Key actions aimed at achieving its vision relevantly include consideration of potential amendments to the Environmental Protection Act 1994 which may be required to ensure the legislation accommodates a risk-based approach, review of conditions that are commonly applied across industry sectors and consider the feasibility of incorporating these conditions in the legislation or a statutory instrument, improvements to guidance material regarding the standard of information required in applications and improvements to the efficacy of assessment processes for operators and DES. The Strategy also indicates that DES will implement the outcomes of the review of the EPBC Act to transition to a 'single touch' approval process and identify opportunities for new ERA standards for low-risk activities.

Special thanks to Ignatius Quin and Casey Guilmartin (Melbourne), Alice Brennan (Sydney) and Gabrielle Lawrence and Bella McNamee (Brisbane) for their contribution to this edition.

Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this communication. Persons listed may not be admitted in all States and Territories.