Senate interim report recommends watering down the EPBC Act

The Senate Select Committee on Red Tape has released its interim report on the effect of red tape on environmental assessment and approvals, recommending a suite of changes to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act and other legislation that would remove or reduce significant powers of the Federal Government to intervene on environmental issues.

Amongst the committee's recommendations are:

  • that the 'water trigger' be removed from the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth). The water trigger was created as a Matter of National Environment Significance (MNES) by an amendment in 2013 in relation to coal seam gas development and large coal mining development.

  • that uranium mining not be included as part of the 'nuclear actions' matter of national environmental significance in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth)

  • that the Australian Government re-introduce legislation to repeal section 487 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. This section allows individuals and groups to challenge ministerial decisions on resources, developments and other issues under the EPBC Act. A bid to abolish the section by former PM Tony Abbott was rejected in the Senate in 2015.

The Committee also recommended that the Australian Government amend the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 to remove Land Councils' ability to veto applications for exploration and/or mining licences.

The Committee report stated that submitters and witnesses had told them that environmental assessment and approval is over-regulated at all levels of government, with adverse economic consequences.

It recommended that Australian, state and territory governments re-commit to the One Stop Shop initiative, and that the Australian Government investigate ways in which environmental assessment and approval processes could be consolidated into the remit of a single regulator.

The Department of the Environment and Energy is currently undertaking preliminary work for a 2019 review of the EPBC Act, however the Committee recommended that the review should be brought forward to 2018.

The two Labor Senators of the six-member Committee provided a dissenting report, in particular referencing the Water Trigger in the EPBC Act which, they said, “means that the impact of coal seam gas development and large coal mining development on Australia's precious water resources is carefully considered.”

The interim report is available here.

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