Media Release Climate Change

Rushing through state environment powers not the sea change our oceans need

July 21, 2020

Australia’s peak marine conservation group has described an Interim Report on the nation’s failing environment laws as an honest stocktake, but is alarmed by the Federal Government’s rushed response.

The Interim Report by Professor Graeme Samuel is part of a 10-year statutory review of Australia’s environment law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999. The final report is due in October 2020.

Before the full review has been finalised, Environment Minister Sussan Ley said the Morrison Government will be pushing ahead with bilateral agreements that will devolve environmental  assessments and approvals to the states and territories under a revamped EPBC Act.

The Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) says rushing through delegations to the states will be to the detriment of our oceans, wildlife and the growing list of threatened marine species around our coastline.

AMCS campaign manager Tooni Mahto said: “There are no surprises in the report as to just how dire the situation is for nature. The extinction and biodiversity crisis we face is monumental on land and in our oceans, and Australia’s law has catastrophically failed to halt the critical situation. This Interim Report reflects that.

“This is a key juncture in the road. It’s a chance for the Australian government to turn our ship around and strengthen our most important environment law to give the public confidence that we can protect our marine animals in a rapidly warming world.

“But instead the government is focusing on introducing legislation that devolves environmental assessment and approval powers to the states before the review of the EPBC Act is even complete.

“The Commonwealth government’s oversight of threats from unsustainable fishing has been essential in progressing ecological sustainability, helping protect endangered wildlife like dolphins and turtles, and reforming management. Weakening any oversight means more risk to Australia’s unique and threatened marine wildlife.”

The Interim Report recommends regulating a set of National Environment Standards to prescribe environmental outcomes and provides examples of interim standards that could be applied.

“Regulating environmental outcomes based on a set of standards could deliver benefits for the oceans. But for the sake of the threatened species in our oceans and unique places like the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef, the National Environment Standards need to be strong and very carefully and clearly worded. Or else it will simply be business as usual under laws that fail our environment,” said Ms Mahto.

“Currently there is not enough detail in the interim report or from the government’s response on how these standards will protect endangered marine wildlife, the Great Barrier Reef and marine ecosystems. We look forward to working with Professor Samuel and the government on these.”

Ms Mahto added that AMCS was deeply disappointed the government had immediately ruled out an independent environmental regulator, as recommended in the Interim Report, to oversee the application of the laws.

The Interim Report also failed to include a climate trigger, which AMCS views as a critical gap in the EPBC Act, with implications for our Great Barrier Reef.

“Global warming is the biggest threat to our Reef as evidenced by three climate change-driven mass bleaching events in the last five years. Not recognising the very clear danger presented by climate change in our national environment laws is a huge and very dangerous oversight,” Ms Mahto said.