The second independent review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), the Commonwealth’s primary national environmental law, commenced on 29 October 2019. Under the EPBC Act, an independent review must be undertaken at least once every ten years examining the operation of the Act and the extent to which its objects have been achieved. This is the second review of the EPBC Act since its introduction.

Professor Graeme Samuel AC has been appointed as the independent reviewer and a discussion paper authored by Professor Samuel was released in November 2019.

Submissions are currently open in respect of the discussion paper and are due by 5pm (AEDST) Friday 14 February 2020. The preference is to receive written contributions through an online form. However, post or email contributions will also be accepted. Submission guidelines have been published providing more information about the collection, use and disclosure of information. Submissions can be made in confidence, if so desired.

While the review will be conducted over the next 12 months and include input from an expert panel, the ideas and questions set out in the discussion paper will guide and inform further consultation throughout 2020. Examples of some of the questions raised for consideration in the discussion paper include:

  • Should the matters of national environmental significance within the EPBC Act be changed?
  • Should the EPBC Act have a greater focus on restoration?
  • Should low-risk projects receive automatic approval or be exempt in some way?
  • How should the EPBC Act support the engagement of Indigenous Australians in environment and heritage management?
  • How could private sector and philanthropic investment in the environment be best supported by the EPBC Act?

It is important to note that the review is not a review of environmental policy, rather it is a review of the effectiveness of the EPBC Act to ensure that it is fit for the future. Having regard to the questions asked throughout the discussion paper and in light of the review being a once in a decade opportunity to look closely at the EPBC Act, it appears that this review will be an opportunity to focus on reform and possible alternatives.