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ENVIRONMENT PROTECTION AND BIODIVERSITY CONSERVATION AMENDMENT (STREAMLINING ENVIRONMENTAL APPROVALS) BILL 2020 (CTH)

17.11.2020

ECNT condemns the Coalition's rushed amendments to our national environment laws
 
ECNT condemns the Commonwealth Government for rushing through amendments to our national environmental laws to shortcut approvals, before the final report of the 10-year review into the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Protection Act (Cth) is published.
Protection of the unique environment and biodiversity of the Northern Territory is under threat on multiple fronts.  Mammal populations in the Northern Territory are in decline, with many at risk of extinction.  Land clearing is on the rise, fragmenting and destroying critical habitat and accelerating species decline. The Northern Territory has just suffered through two very dry years, with aquifers under increasing pressure from extraction, some even close to running dry during the 2019 dry season and raising questions about the habitability of parts of the Northern Territory.  Climate change is projected to have significant impacts on the biodiversity of the Northern Territory by as early as 2030, and extreme impacts by 2070, including increased droughts, changes fire regimes, erratic rainfall and extreme temperatures.
 
The EPBC Act is not fit for purpose to modify or prevent these impacts. The legislation has failed to slow the decline of critical habitats for threatened species in the Northern Territory and across Australia, which are the primary focus of its jurisdiction.   It has facilitated environmentally destructive projects in the Northern Territory, often with little or no meaningful oversight.  Indeed, via its bilateral agreement with the Northern Territory Government entered into under the EPBC Act, the Commonwealth accredited one of the weakest environmental assessment regimes in the country which has left numerous legacy mines and other environmental issues in its wake.
 
The current review into the EPBC Act is a once in a decade opportunity to improve this legislation.   Unfortunately, the Coalition Government has seen fit to push through amendments before its final report is delivered, aimed at streamlining approvals rather than improving protections for the Northern Territory's environment.  ECNT is extremely concerned about the poor process for scrutiny of this Bill to amend our national environmental and biodiversity laws. Establishing a Senate Committee to report on this critically important legislation in only two weeks is a farcical box-ticking exercise. ECNT calls for the Government to publicly release the Final Report of the EPBC Act review before any further legislative amendment is undertaken. 

ECNT believes any EPBC Act amendments should at a minimum: 

  1. expand the water trigger to include shale gas, consistent with the recommendations of the Scientific Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing in the Northern Territory; 
  2. include “significant greenhouse gas emissions” and “land clearing” as matters of national environmental significance; 
  3. include the establishment of an independent environmental regulator; 
  4. not be enacted until any new national environmental standards are made available for public scrutiny and consultation before being put to Parliament.
Submissions to the Senate Committee are due on 18 November 2020. You can make a submission by emailing ec.sen@aph.gov.au.