Last week, the Discussion Paper relating to the Independent Review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) was released for public consultation.

The Discussion Paper outlines potential areas of focus for the review and floats potential options for reform. It is intended to encourage thinking and shape discussions with stakeholders throughout the consultation process.

Compared to the previous review of the EPBC Act, undertaken in 2009, this Discussion Paper is more targeted, perhaps foreshadowing a more narrow suite of reform proposals when delivered in late 2020.

The Discussion Paper identifies six broad potential focus areas for reform:

  1. The role of the EPBC Act;
  2. Better environment and heritage outcomes;
  3. More efficient and effective regulation and administration;
  4. Indigenous Australians’ knowledge and experience;
  5. Community inclusion, trust and transparency; and
  6. Innovative approaches.

The Discussion Paper invites interested parties to provide written comment in response to twenty-six questions across the six focus areas, which generally cover:

  • What the role of the EPBC Act should be, including whether the objects should be made more specific or whether the matters of ‘national environmental significance’ should be changed?
  • How regulation and administration can be improved? Specifically, how could approvals and assessments be streamlined or simplified?
  • How could community involvement in decision making be improved through public access to information about decisions?
  • How could the EPBC Act better support the engagement of Indigenous Australians in environment and heritage management?
  • What other innovative approaches can be incorporated into regulation under the EPBC Act including the improvement of existing or establishment of new environmental markets?

Key timeline for the review

Over the next 12 months, the review will consider a wide range of information and ideas raised by responses to the Discussion Paper. Key dates in the review process include:

  • Oct 2019 – Review announced
  • Nov 2019 – Discussion paper
  • Feb 2020 – Exploring reform options
  • Jun 2020 – Draft report
  • Oct 2020 – Final Report

We are continuing to follow the review to identify the likely implications for existing and future development. It will be particularly interesting to see how the review intends to balance the interests of business and the community alongside maintaining strong environmental standards. The review also provides an opportunity to explore how the use of technology and automation might streamline approval and reporting processes.

The Discussion Paper and associate website including the terms of reference of the Independent Review is available here.

Make a submission

Written submissions on the Discussion Paper are due by 5pm on 14 February 2020. Targeted engagement activities will be undertaken during the consultation period for the discussion paper, and further consultation is expected as the review progresses.