Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Reviewing Our National Environmental Law As If It Mattered

By Peter Burnett

Australia’s overarching national environmental law is due for review. To make the most of this opportunity, the reviewers need to address five critical questions.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Australia’s national environmental law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), is 20 years old. Later this year it gets its second 10-year review. In a time of climate change and mass extinction, is the EPBC Act still fit for purpose? Does it need a little tinkering or a major overhaul?

I was responsible for the administration of the EPBC Act during the first review in 2009. To my mind, this second review is a valuable opportunity for reform.

The thing we need to resist is simply looking inside the Act to make it work better. The way forward lies as much on the outside of the Act, and I’d like to pose five big “outside” questions.

But before I discuss these, what happened to the first review? Led by Allan Hawke, a former federal department head, the Hawke Review was comprehensive and well packaged in its recommendations. Hawke was assisted by an expert panel, and engaged extensively with stakeholders. He packaged his recommendations so they had something for everyone: new environmental protection for environmentalists; streamlining of regulation for business; stronger institutions for administrators; and a fresh name for maximum political effect. Unfortunately, these outcomes never materialised.

It was 2010 by the time government was able to act on the review, and there was significant political turmoil...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.