The EPBC Act Review: An UpdateApr 2022 | Planning & Environment
In February 2021, we released a newsletter about the Final Report (Report) of the second Independent Review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) (EPBC Act) which was publicly released in early 2021. (Our update can be accessed here).
In March, the Minister for the Environment and the Minister for Resources and Water issued a joint media release advising that the Federal Government has announced a Budget reform package of $128.5 million to provide greater certainty around environmental protection, strengthen compliance and streamline the assessment and decision-making processes.
Significantly, the government has advised that the package ‘will help protect the environment, while supporting economic recovery and helping to create jobs in regional and rural communities’.1
The Report set out 38 recommendations which were initially proposed to be implemented in three stages, immediately, within 12 months and within two years. Timing has since been adjusted into four stages as follows:
- Stage 1 – mid 2020 to mid 2021 – delivering the foundations for reform including the independent review of the EPBC Act, development and introduction of bills and development of timeline;
- Stage 2 – mid 2021 to late 2022 – delivering priority reforms and engaging on further reforms such as further standards, regulatory efficiency, transparency, compliance, environmental data and information, and Indigenous cultural heritage protection;
- Stage 3 – late 2022 to end 2023 – building on the foundations for reform including legislative amendments and engagement on planning, environmental restoration and offsets, and accreditation of Commonwealth agencies; and
- Stage 4 – 2024 – completing the reform including delivery and engagement on the overhaul of the EPBC Act.
To support this reform, the government has already provided $47 million for the expansion of the Digital Environmental Assessment Program in order ‘to ensure assessments are based on consistent data allowing them to be made more quickly and with greater transparency’.2 The further $128.5 million budgeted by the government is proposed to be allocated as follows:
- $62.3 million for the delivery of up to 10 regional plans in priority development areas in order to protect areas of environmental significance, streamline assessments and manage cumulative impacts.
- $37.9 million for streamlining the assessment processes, including:
- $10 million for the single touch approval process;
- $27.9 million for continuing on time assessment determinations.
- $28.4 million for supporting informed decision making, including:
- $12 million for the modernisation of the environmental offsets policy;
- $9.5 million for the improvement of compliance;
- $4.9 million for strengthening the knowledge base of protected plants and animals;
- $2 million for of scoping of a new advisory committee to provide expert industry and technology advice to government.
Benefits for resources projects
For resource proponents, the reforms are proposed to reduce the regulatory burden that arise from the need for state and territory approval requirements in conjunction with national approval requirements. As a result of this funding, the measures to be implemented will reduce unnecessary delay and duplication, streamline approvals, ensure greater transparency and flexibility around environmental offsets, strengthen safeguards and improve the quality and reliability of data used in assessments and decision making.3
If delivered as proposed, it will give greater certainty in terms of approvals and encourage investor confidence. It will more clearly set out environmental obligations and requirements, and in theory it should cost less to obtain the relevant approvals.
Our previous newsletter advised that there was some industry concern regarding the reforms and that the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies (AMEC) had commented that previous reforms had lacked backing which resulted in the reforms being left unaddressed and unimplemented.
In response to the governments reform package, AMEC CEO Warren Pearce stated that ‘the mining and exploration industry need an approvals framework that provides clarity and certainty for proponents to invest in new projects, while ensuring strong environmental safeguards’ and that the funding ‘announcement is a further step forward in achieving this’.4
Mr Pearce also agreed with the government’s position regarding economic recovery, advising that ‘these reforms will help reduce the unnecessary duplication and delay on environmental approvals without compromising environmental outcomes and allow the industry to continue to support the economic recovery of Australia’.
As previously recognised, the legislative and regulatory framework surrounding the EPBC Act is complex and it can be expensive and time-consuming for proponents to ensure they comply with the regime. It therefore remains to be seen whether the reforms achieve what they set out to do in terms of streamlining the assessment and decision-making processes, strengthening compliance and giving greater certainty to environmental protection.
The government’s $128.5 million reform package demonstrates its commitment to achieving the objectives of the reform. Carter Newell will continue to monitor whether the objectives can be achieved and the funding sufficient to enable such reforms to be implemented.
If you require further information regarding the Report or the status of the reforms, or any possible implications either may have, please contact our experienced Planning & Environment Team.
1 Joint media release: New package to advance environmental law reform issued by The Hon Sussan Ley MP, Minister for the Environment and The Hon Keith Pitt MP, Minister for Resources and Water, 15 March 2022.
4 AMEC welcomes new package to advance environmental law reform, Media release issued by AMEC, 15 March 2022.
This article may provide CPD/CLE/CIP points through your relevant industry organisation.
The material contained in this publication is in the nature of general comment only, and neither purports nor is intended to be advice on any particular matter. No reader should act on the basis of any matter contained in this publication without considering, and if necessary, taking appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.