FEDERAL GOVERNMENT REFORMS TO NATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL REGULATION

The Federal Government’s proposed reforms to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC) align with the Minerals Council of Australia’s long-held advocacy for the overhaul of national environmental approval processes to ensure better environmental outcomes, reduced regulatory duplication and improved business confidence.

The Government has accepted recommendations to reform the Act in key areas:

  • Strategic Land Use Planning - that takes account of all of the land use values and makes environmental assessments of proposed projects through the prism of ecological sustainable development. Strategic land assessments are an important tool in the pre-development stage and set clear parameters for business in project proposals for regulatory consideration.
  • Streamlining coordination between Commonwealth and State/Territory jurisdictions - reducing the regulatory burden, duplication and inconsistencies that have cost industry alone up to $$820 million according to an Australian National University study over the period of the Act’s operation without any material environmental gain.
  • Consideration of legislatively prescribing the framework for environmental offsets requirements - such that they are justified in sound science, are ecologically compatible, and deliver improved biodiversity outcomes.

The Government’s proposed reforms provide the foundation to address the systemic failures of the existing national environmental regulatory system, but will do little to redress the here and now imperative of the current backlog.

The Government does not need to hold to ransom, on condition of cost recovery, critical reforms to the intersection between the Commonwealth and State/Territory environmental approval processes.

There exists ample scope for the Commonwealth to become the “standard setter”, and the State and Territory jurisdictions to execute assessments and approvals in accordance with their own Constitutional responsibilities for land use planning and the Commonwealth’s requirements. Resources currently committed to the duplicative process here in Canberra could be more usefully deployed to the States/Territories.

Accordingly, any consideration of cost recovery from industry should be viewed through the prism of improved regulatory efficiency and effectiveness, and not simply as a means of gouging revenue from business to resource an ineffective system.

The minerals industry is the most highly regulated in Australia. All our activities are controlled by State and Territory legislation, and if the Commonwealth is going to overlay those controls there needs to be a demonstrable improvement in environmental outcomes, not just additional costs.

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