10 Aug 2020

State of Play: Environment Protection and Biodiversity in Australia

On 20 July, Professor Graeme Samuel AC released the interim report for the Independent Review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 - Australia's environmental law.


Karen Trainor shares a snapshot of the preliminary recommendations which have the potential to result in fundamental reforms and will be of interest to those investing in Australia.


To learn more about the key market trends and latest legal developments in Australia, visit our Australian Market: the state of play page.


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The independent review has been issued by Professor Graeme Samuel on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, the EPBC Act, which is Australia's national environmental law and under the statute it has to be reviewed every 10 years in terms of performance, this is the second review.  Professor Samuel has issued the interim report on that review and made a series of recommendations.  That report is available for public consultation and comment before the 17th of August and a final report needs to issue to the Minister by the 31st of October this year.

The key recommendations out of Professor Samuel's review of the EPBC Act involve a 3 phase reform process.  The first is a quick fix for the legislation, the second phase will improve improvements to monitoring and reporting against environmental performance and the third phase is a total reform.  The recommendations that Professor Samuel has included involve a development of National Environmental Standards and these National Environmental Standards will then enable for single approval process such that Commonwealth decisions can be devolved to state and territories.

There are a range of other recommendations for improvements in efficiency in the Act bettering indigenous engagement and better sharing of data as well.

Now that the interim report has been released.  The public can comment on that report by the 17th of August.  The final report is due on the 31st of October this year.  The Minister for the Environment has already indicated an intention to introduce legislation into the House in August this year to allow for the interim introduction of Environmental Standards, National Environmental Standards which will allow for devolution of decision making to the states and territories so that there will be single approval process for projects rather than a dual approval process that currently exists and also there will be some provisions protecting greater protection of indigenous cultural heritage. 

For proponents and also for inbound investors, there's not much to be done in the short term.  The legislation will still have to go through the parliamentary process and in the short to medium term there will be some consideration and consultation on National Environmental Standards and what they should contain.