The Guardian • Issue #1948


Massive overhaul on environmental laws needed says new report

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #1948

Last month, the Morrison government released a once in a decade report of Australia’s environmental laws. The report contains thirty-eight recommendations to transform the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act. The report, headed by Professor Graeme Samuel, stated in its foreword that “to shy away from the fundamental reforms recommended by this Review is to accept the continued decline of our iconic places and the extinction of our most threatened plants, animals and ecosystems.”

The thirty-eight recommendations were split into three time-sensitive categories – “Immediate reforms should be delivered to progress priority reforms”; “reform[s] [that] should be completed within 12 months”; “[Reforms that] should be completed within two years.” The recommendations included (but were not limited to) a need for an “independent Environment Assurance Commissioner”;  to amend the EPBC Act so as to “require decision-makers to respectfully consider Indigenous views and knowledge”; and to “Increase the level of environmental protection afforded in Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs).”

The Morrison government received the report in October last year yet held onto it for three months. As of writing, it has yet to release an official response. Environment minister Sussan Ley didn’t hold a media conference but said in a statement that Samuel had “put forward far-reaching recommendations aimed at delivering a sensible and staged process of change, and it is important to canvass these fully as we confirm our reform agenda.”

Both the ALP and the Greens have called on the government to act quickly. Labor’s environment spokeswoman, Terri Butler called on the government to “introduce strong national environmental standards and establish a genuinely independent ‘cop on the beat’ for Australia’s environment.” Greens environment spokesperson, Sarah Hanson-Young, echoed these sentiments stating the government needed “to respond with a genuine commitment” in order “to hold corporations and governments to account.”

These recommendations come at a time when Australia is one of the worst-performing countries on climate action and the environment. Just last year, documents released under the freedom of information showed that the Morrison government “stopped listing major threats to species under national environment laws” with “plans to address listed threats […] often years out of date or have not been done at all.” Furthermore “Australia has not listed any critical habitat for the protection of threatened species” in over a decade (Guardian UK). On top of this, Australia is entirely off track in meeting its set target for the Paris Climate Agreement, among other climate targets.

Furthermore, while both the ALP and the Coalition have responded warmly to the report, one has to be a sceptical about the seriousness of their rhetoric. Both parties have received donations from mining and gas companies. The Brisbane Times reports that in the last federal election the ALP and Coalition received over $130,000 and $192,000 from Woodside Energy and over $65,000 and $56,000 from the Minerals Council of Australia, respectively.

Communist Party of Australia (CPA) General Secretary Andrew Irving commended the recommendations but stressed the need for more. “We need a socialist economy to sufficiently address the problem of climate change,” stated Irving, adding “if in the next thirty years if we do not implement an approach that puts people and the environment over profits future generations will suffer immensely.”

Indeed, the CPA has recognised climate action as one of its top priorities of 2021. In the following months it will roll out its “Fighting For the Future” campaign which will detail the Party’s path for saving the planet. It will also be releasing a pamphlet with a current analysis on the crisis.

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