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EPBC Act Review: Online responses

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Response ID ANON-K57V-XZRK-V

Submitted to EPBC Act Review: Make a submission on the discussion paper
Submitted on 2020-04-17 13:34:59

1. About you

1 What is your name?

First name:

Robyn

Last name:

Coghlan

2 Are you making this submission as an individual or on behalf of an organisation?

Organisation

Organisation name (if applicable):

Ginninderra Falls Association Incorporated

What is the scope of your organisation? :

Local

3 What sector best represents you or your organisation?

What sector best represents your organisation? :

Environment

If Other, please specify::

4 Which State or Territory are you from?

Which State or Territory are you from?:

Australian Capital Territory

5 Do you identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander?

No

6 What are your key areas of interest in the EPBC Act?

The objects of the Act, Threatened species, Environmental Impact Assessments, Cumulative impacts, Climate change, Compliance and enforcement, Decision making, Biodiversity, Conservation, Water

Other:

7 Can the EPBC Act Review Secretariat contact you about your submission?

Yes

If Yes, please enter your email :

president@ginninderra.org.au

2. About the EPBC Act

1 Some have argued that past changes to the EPBC Act to add new matters of national environmental significance did not go far enough. Others have argued it has extended the regulatory reach of the Commonwealth too far. What do you think?

The question of the Commonwealth’s increasing encroachment into state areas of responsibility is a sensitive one. Continuing degradation of our environment and biodiversity along with pressures from population growth, however, has highlighted the need for state, territory and national governments to work together to ensure our future. Nature does not recognise state borders. Whilst there will always be pressure from self-interests, it is essential that national standards are set in a co-operative manner, implemented effectively and adhered to by all governments.

2 How could the principle of Ecologically Sustainable Development (ESD) be better reflected in the EPBC Act? For example, could the consideration of environmental, social and economic factors, which are core components of ESD, be achieved through greater inclusion of cost benefit analysis in decision making?

How could the principle of Ecologically Sustainable Development (ESD) be better reflected in the EPBC Act?:

The EPBC process seems to be to approve (mostly) or reject (rarely) a proposal, but not to consider alternatives. Use of ESD and cost/ benefit analysis, however, could lead to more appropriate or less damaging developments.

Cost benefit analysis, however, should be included only if environmental costs and benefits can be quantified based on consideration of the need to ensure an environment that can support and sustain the Australian population into the future. Present practices are leading to erosion of this environmental base.

Over the past century, Australia’s population has increased from 5.5 million to 25.5 million. This has inevitably applied pressure to the natural environment and its biodiversity but does not seem to be considered in decision making. It is essential that the innate benefits from a sustainable environment for humanity be included, along with the inevitable costs arising from loss of a supporting environment, in all decision making.

3 Should the objects of the EPBC Act be more specific?

Should the objects of the EPBC Act be more specific?:

Making the objects of the EPBC more specific would leave gaps in its protection. These objects should be placed within an explanation stressing the overall importance of maintaining an environment that will sustain the human population, including the preservation of a diversity of native species of both flora and fauna.

An overarching object of this Act should be to protect Australia’s environment and biodiversity for the long-term wellbeing of its people. The time has come for more serious consideration of nature as an essential component of human existence rather than as an interesting and enjoyable object. The Act already provides for this approach in Section 3A:

(c) the principle of inter-generational equity – that the present generation should ensure that the health, diversity and productivity of the environment is maintained or enhanced for the benefit of future generations.

Drafting of applications by the proposer and assessment of these applications both need to actively consider the principles outlined in the objects.

4 Should the matters of national environmental significance within the EPBC Act be changed? How?

Should the matters of national environmental significance within the EPBC Act be changed? How?:

The limitation on protection of water resources to coal-seam gas extraction and large coal mining development should be removed so as to consider water resources generally, especially cross-border river systems.

5 Which elements of the EPBC Act should be priorities for reform? For example, should future reforms focus on assessment and approval processes or on biodiversity conservation? Should the Act have proactive mechanisms to enable landholders to protect matters of national environmental significance and biodiversity, removing the need for regulation in the right circumstances?

Which elements of the EPBC Act should be priorities for reform? For example, should future reforms focus on assessment and approval processes or on biodiversity conservation? Should the Act have proactive mechanisms to enable landholders to protect matters of national environmental significance and biodiversity, removing the need for regulation in the right circumstances?:

The assessment and approval processes definitely need improving. A stronger emphasis on application of the objects of the Act should improve assessment and, hopefully, improve the drafting of applications, as well as impress on developers the desirability of adhering to standards agreed to be essential. Better assessment decisions should result in better biodiversity conservation.

Enabling landholders to protect matters of national environmental significance and biodiversity should not require removal of regulation. Such protection should occur within the standards set by regulation.

6 What high level concerns should the review focus on? For example, should there be greater focus on better guidance on the EPBC Act, including clear environmental standards? How effective has the EPBC Act been in achieving its statutory objectives to protect the environment and promote ecologically sustainable development and biodiversity conservation? What have been the economic costs associated with the operation and administration of the EPBC Act?

What high level concerns should the review focus on? For example, should there be greater focus on better guidance on EPBC Act, including clear environmental standards? How effective has the EPBC Act been in achieving its statutory objectives to protect the environment and promote ecologically sustainable development and biodiversity conservation? What have been the economic costs associated with the operation and administration of the EPBC Act?:

Most definitely there should be better guidance on implementing the Act with clear environmental standards. These standards, however, must be considered within the framework of the objects rather than in isolation. Our language is open to different interpretations by different people from different perspectives. Clear environmental standards will never mean exactly the same thing to everyone. It is essential, therefore, that the objects are routinely applied to determine if the environmental standard has been fulfilled within the intent of the Act.

The economic costs associated with operation and administration of the Act should be weighed against the costs incurred from failure of the Act to meet its objectives, especially in the long term. The costs of current practice have been great in terms of land clearing and lost habitat, and the consequent deleterious effects on the climate.

3. What the future looks like

7 What additional future trends or supporting evidence should be drawn on to inform the review?

What additional future trends or supporting evidence should be drawn on to inform the review?:

Australia's environmental report card (ANU and possibly other independent reviews).

4.A. The role of the EPBC Act

8 Should the EPBC Act regulate environmental and heritage outcomes instead of managing prescriptive processes?

Should the EPBC Act regulate environmental and heritage outcomes instead of managing prescriptive processes?:

Outcomes are more important than prescriptions or processes.

4.B. Better environment and heritage outcomes

9 Should the EPBC Act position the Commonwealth to take a stronger role in delivering environmental and heritage outcomes in our federated system? Who should articulate outcomes? Who should provide oversight of the outcomes? How do we know if outcomes are being achieved?

Should the EPBC Act position the Commonwealth to take a stronger role in delivering environmental and heritage outcomes in our federated system? Who should articulate outcomes? Who should provide oversight of the outcomes? How do we know if outcomes are being achieved?:

The Commonwealth should take a stronger role if states do not fulfil their environmental responsibilities.

10 Should there be a greater role for national environmental standards in achieving the outcomes the EPBC Act seeks to achieve?

Should there be a greater role for national environmental standards in achieving the outcomes the EPBC Act aims to deliver?:

In some areas, targeted standards are appropriate (e.g. air pollution) but, in others, only broad standards are possible (e.g. more complex ecological processes). Non-binding policy and strategies are pointless.

11 How can environmental protection and environmental restoration be best achieved together?

How can environmental protection and environmental restoration be best achieved together?:

Protection and restoration go together. Often conservation involves protection of remnant patches of vegetation and restoration of adjoining areas.

12 Are heritage management plans and associated incentives sensible mechanisms to improve? How can the EPBC Act adequately represent Indigenous culturally important places? Should protection and management be place-based instead of values based?

Are heritage management plans and associated incentives sensible mechanisms to improve? How can the EPBC Act adequately represent Indigenous culturally important places? Should protection and management be place-based instead of values based?:

4.C. More efficient and effective regulation and administration

13 Should the EPBC Act require the use of strategic assessments to replace case-by-case assessments? Who should lead or participate in strategic assessments?

Should the EPBC Act require the use of strategic assessments to replace case-by-case assessments? Who should lead or participate in strategic assessments?:

Both strategic and case-by-case assessments are needed. One looks to the future and the other looks at the present.

14 Should the matters of national significance be refined to remove duplication of responsibilities between different levels of government? Should states be delegated to deliver EPBC Act outcomes subject to national standards?

Should the matters of national significance be refined to remove duplication of responsibilities between different levels of government? Should states be delegated to deliver EPBC Act outcomes subject to national standards?:

The Commonwealth has ultimate responsibility for the Australian environment and must assert itself if states do not accept responsibility.

15 Should low-risk projects receive automatic approval or be exempt in some way? How could data help support this approach? Should a national environmental database be developed? Should all data from environmental impact assessments be made publicly available?

Should low-risk projects receive automatic approval or be exempt in some way? How could data help support this approach? Should a national environmental database be developed? Should all data from environmental impact assessments be made publicly available?:

Low-risk projects should require approval as the sum of all outcomes needs to be fully considered. The cumulative effect of many low-risk projects could be high-risk. A strategic or regional approach could take account of the cumulative effect of such projects.

An environmental GIS or database could help with this, to ensure that effects of all developments are accounted for. All data should be publicly and nationally available.

16 Should the Commonwealth’s regulatory role under the EPBC Act focus on habitat management at a landscape-scale rather than species-specific protections?

Should the Commonwealth’s regulatory role under the EPBC Act focus on habitat management at a landscape-scale rather than species-specific protections? :

Both landscape-scale and species-specific processes are needed.

17 Should the EPBC Act be amended to enable broader accreditation of state and territory, local and other processes?

Should the EPBC Act be amended to enable broader accreditation of state, local and other processes?:

Only if these fully comply with the national requirements in the EPBC Act and are monitored to ensure this is so.

18 Are there adequate incentives to give the community confidence in self-regulation?

Are there adequate incentives to give the community confidence in self-regulation?:

Self-regulation in the building industry over the past decades has been shown to be a farce. Behaviour of developers cannot be relied upon to give the community confidence in self-regulation. Those who do comply are disadvantaged by those who do not. GFA does not support self-regulation. Accordingly, GFA does not support self-regulation under the EPBC Act.

4.D. Indigenous Australians' knowledge and experience

19 How should the EPBC Act support the engagement of Indigenous Australians in environment and heritage management?

How should the EPBC Act support the engagement of Indigenous Australians in environment and heritage management?:

4.E. Community inclusion, trust and transparency

20 How should community involvement in decision-making under the EPBC Act be improved? For example, should community representation in environmental advisory and decision making bodies be increased?

How should community involvement in decision making under the EPBC Act be improved? For example, should community representation in environmental advisory and decision making bodies be increased?:

Involve the community in all stages of planning and development approval.

21 What is the priority for reform to governance arrangements? The decision-making structures or the transparency of decisions? Should the decision makers under the EPBC Act be supported by different governance arrangements?

What is the priority for reform to governance arrangements? The decision-making structures or the transparency of decisions? Should the decision makers under the EPBC Act be supported by different governance arrangements?:

4.F. Innovative approaches

22 What innovative approaches could the review consider that could efficiently and effectively deliver the intended outcomes of the EPBC Act? What safeguards would be needed?

What innovative approaches could the review consider that could efficiently and effectively deliver the intended outcomes of the EPBC Act? What safeguards would be needed?:

Industry self-regulation with government oversight is satisfactory only if the government is prepared to resume control when self-regulation does not work. Unfortunately, there are very few examples of effective industry self-regulation and numerous examples of the failures of self-regulation schemes. GFA, therefore, does not support self-regulation of any kind.

23 Should the Commonwealth establish new environmental markets? Should the Commonwealth implement a trust fund for environmental outcomes?

Should the Commonwealth establish new environmental markets? Should the Commonwealth implement a trust fund for environmental outcomes? :

24 What do you see are the key opportunities to improve the current system of environmental offsetting under the EPBC Act?

What do you see are the key opportunities to improve the current system of environmental offsetting under the EPBC Act?:

Offsets need to be monitored to ensure they are viable in the long term, as a genuine replacement for lost ecological assets. There is also a need to determine the effectiveness of offsets which simply acknowledge the loss of one population by preserving another population, resulting in a loss of habitat overall.

There is currently no monitoring of the effectiveness of offsets or evidence that they work. For example, isolated offset fragments are no substitute for a continuous area of habitat and are more likely to become degraded with time.

25 How could private sector and philanthropic investment in the environment be best supported by the EPBC Act?

How could private sector and philanthropic investment in the environment be best supported by the EPBC Act?:

5. Principles to guide future reform

26 Do you have suggested improvements to the above principles? How should they be applied during the review and in future reform?

Do you have suggested improvements to the above principles? How should they be applied during the Review and in future reform?:

GFA supports the current principles but feels they need stronger support and application.

6. General questions

27 Is the EPBC Act delivering what was intended in an efficient and effective manner?

Is the EPBC Act delivering what was intended in an efficient and effective manner?:

The Act is not delivering what was intended in an efficient and effective manner. The State of the Environment and ANU report card both show this, as does the fact that few proposals are ever rejected.

28 How well is the EPBC Act being administered?

How well is the EPBC Act being administered?:

There appears to be too much reliance on the applicant's consultants with the result that the outcome is skewed towards developer interests rather than those of the nation.

29 Is the EPBC Act sufficient to address future challenges? Why?

Is the EPBC Act sufficient to address future challenges? Why?:

It should be sufficient if implemented effectively and with support from all governments, business and the community.

30 What are the priority areas for reform?

What are the priority areas for reform?:

The Act has no specific assessment of the significance of a place’s biodiversity (number of species per unit area), despite having the word in its name. It considers species individually, not the significance of the overall species diversity of a place.

The EPBC Act should assess the cumulative effect of previous developments, together with new proposed developments. Regional assessment, as recommended by the Hawke review, would facilitate understanding and mitigation of cumulative effects.

31 What changes are needed to the EPBC Act? Why?

What changes are needed to the EPBC Act? Why?:

The Act is essentially reactive, in that it responds to development proposals, rather than identifying ecological values first and then guiding development to avoid conflict.

There is no assessment of impact on wildlife corridors or regional ecological connectivity in the Act.

32 Is there anything else of importance to you that you would like the review to consider?

Is there anything else of importance to you that you would like the review to consider?:

There is no independent review, including field validation, of EPBC assessments.

7. Add an attachment

Add attachment:

EPBC Review - Ginninderra Falls Association.pdf was uploaded

8. Publication permission

33 Do you give permission for your submission to be published?

Yes - with my name and/or organisation (if included)

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