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Reforms to the EPBC Act must enshrine a fair say for the community

Reforms to the EPBC Act must enshrine a fair say for the community

Dear Minister Tanya Plibersek, Australia is poised with a once-in-a-decade opportunity to improve its federal environment laws...

The dire State of the Environment 2021 report again showed the deeply concerning downward trend for Australia’s nature, which includes the escalating impacts of the biodiversity, extinction, and climate crises, and the continuing, rapid destruction and degradation of Australia’s globally unique and iconic land and sea Country.

Professor Graeme Samuel’s review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act offered important insights into the dysfunction that has undermined federal environmental regulation in Australia. 

Notably, he found a lack of trust by the Australian public in the EPBC Act’s ability to deliver for nature, stemming from poor transparency, inadequate opportunities for public participation in decision-making, limited pathways for legal review, and perceptions of a government that shuns accountability for its decisions.  

As a result, the Act fails to ensure integrity and accountability in decisions affecting the environment, resulting inunacceptable outcomes for people and the planet.

We applaud your swift recognition of this integrity gap in Australia’s environment laws, and your commitment to restoring public trust and confidence. 

We now call on you to comprehensively meet this commitment by enshrining a fair say for the community in environmental decision- making and recognising the unique rights of First Nations people.

Achieving integrity and accountability means more than increasing transparency; it requires enshrining the following set of human rights —which Australia has signed on to—in Australia’s environment laws:

  • The right to know- to access the information that authorities hold

  • The right to participate - to have a genuine say in decision-making.

  • The right to challenge -  to seek legal remedy if decisions are made illegally or not in the public interest.

  • Cultural and self-determination-  rights of First Nations, including to give or withhold their free, prior and informed consent

These rights are interdependent and indivisible: enshrining only one or two is not enough. 

Likewise, EPBC reforms and standards that simply affirm the existing status quo (e.g. by not improving current community consultation approaches or not expanding avenues to challenge decisions to include merits review) risk setting the reformed laws up for failure, exacerbating public distrust, and further eroding social licence for development projects. 

Proposed new features of the reforms, such as Environment Protection Australia and Environment Information Australia, must operate in ways that are open, transparent and responsive to community concerns. 

Failure to enshrine these rights in the reformed law would also risk breaching Australia’s binding international legal obligations  and undermining Australia’s aspirations to be a global leader on issues relating to the environment. 

We call on you to seize the opportunity of the current EPBC reform process to properly and comprehensively enshrine community and First Nation rights to rebuild trust and integrity in our environment laws.

Yours sincerely,

Tasmanian Climate Collective

View the full letter and signatories

16 October 2023

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