Australian Government response to the Report of the independent review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999

Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, 2011

About the response

The purpose of this government response is three-fold:

  • This document provides a formal response to the 71 recommendations and several of the findings made in the Report of the independent review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the Report), including an explanation of the policy behind each response.
  • This response includes some reforms that were not specifically recommended in the Report that will improve the operation of the Act.
  • This response is intended to encourage ongoing public discussion as the amendments to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 are drafted and debated, and to provide context for subsequent consultation on potential cost recovery arrangements that will help implement the reforms.

The Report was the product of an extensive public consultation process, to ensure the broadest possible range of expertise and views was considered. Dr Hawke received about 340 written public comments during the Review, and conducted more than 140 meetings with a wide variety of stakeholders, including representatives of business and industry, state, territory and local governments, private landowners, environmental and heritage non-government organisations, individuals, scientists, lawyers and other experts.

The government gratefully acknowledges the input of all individuals and organisations who contributed their knowledge, expertise and vision to the Review.

In preparing this response, the government consulted with all state and territory governments, provided information briefings to many key stakeholders, and held roundtable discussions with land-based and marine-based industry, environmental and heritage non-government organisations and scientists and other experts.

The government also recognises the need for substantial ongoing consultation with the state and territory governments on the implementation of the response, and will work closely with all jurisdictions under the guidance of the COAG and other ministerial councils as appropriate.

Given the significant public interest nature of this legislation, and its potentially broad application to all sectors, the government is committed to ongoing consultation.

The government agrees with the Report's conclusion that five processes define the future direction for Commonwealth environmental regulation: harmonisation, accreditation, standardisation, simplification and oversight. The government will develop this new approach within the scope of the Commonwealth's constitutional powers, international obligations and responsibilities, and, where appropriate, existing Commonwealth legislation.

The government response is based around these key themes and five key policy objectives, which were the basis for the terms of reference of the Report. These are to:

  • promote the sustainability of Australia's economic development to improve individual and community wellbeing while protecting biological diversity and maintaining essential ecological processes and systems
  • work in partnership with the states and territories within an effective federal arrangement
  • help deliver Australia's international obligations
  • reduce and simplify the regulatory burden on people, businesses and organisations, while maintaining appropriate and efficient environmental standards
  • ensure activities under the Act represent the most appropriate, efficient and effective ways of achieving the government's outcomes and objectives in accordance with the Expenditure Review Principles.

Overall, the majority of the 71 primary recommendations of the Review complement work done by the Australian Government and other organisations and agencies to progress Australia's management of environmental issues. The Report and this government response provide a solid basis for future endeavours in this critical area of public policy.

As responsibility for the environment is shared between levels of government under the Australian Constitution, effective implementation of the response to the Report will require close collaboration with state and territory governments. The government will progress this aspect of the reform agenda through COAG, relevant ministerial councils, and bilaterally with state and territory governments. This is a commitment to genuine partnership. The government will of course remain responsible and accountable for protecting matters of national environmental significance and other matters protected under the EPBC Act.

The proposed amendments to the EPBC Act will play a key role in the government's broader reform package for the environment. This package will enable the important shift to a more strategic and administratively streamlined, whole-of-ecosystem approach.

This reform package represents a major step towards developing a new generation, streamlined and harmonised national approach to conserving Australia's environment and resources.