EPBC Act Review
The interim report on the 10 year review of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity (EPBC) Act 1999 was released on 20 July 2020. It makes for sobering reading.
GML and Context have worked to conserve and protect matters of national environmental significance including World Heritage, National Heritage and Commonwealth Heritage under the EPBC Act since it was enacted.
The EPBC Act is a complex and somewhat unwieldy piece of environmental legislation. It has not always been effective. Nationally over the last decade our natural and cultural heritage has been increasingly threatened by growth, development, land clearing, climate change and myriad other threats. Many species are on the brink of extinction.
Given the risks our heritage faces, we should not be looking at how we can cut approval times, but how we can ensure, in the words of Gough Whitlam that the Australian Government re-establishes itself as ‘the curator and not the liquidator of the national estate’.
National leadership in heritage practice, conservation and management has long languished. While the protection of heritage values is still important, we would also like to see the protection of heritage properties or land areas included. Many of the reforms identified in the Hawke review have not been realised. The heritage listing process is slow and overly complex. The National List has not kept pace with the community values or heritage practice. Reform is long overdue in Indigenous heritage too, with existing statutes at Commonwealth level failing to protect some of Australia’s most significant Indigenous heritage places. The interim report doesn’t mince words, and states one of the key reasons that the EPBC Act is not fulfilling its objectives is because there is a ‘culture of tokenism and symbolism’ and Indigenous knowledge and views are ‘not fully valued in decision making’. Indigenous people need to be at the table to ensure their rights and interests in their heritage are respected and integral to statutory reform and stronger protection of their heritage places and values.