The Federal Government this week finally released Professor Graeme Samuel’s Final Report into the  review of Australia’s national environment law – the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.

It is unsurprising the Federal Government held the report back, given its scathing assessment of the capacity of the EPBC Act to protect Australia’s natural environment and heritage.

The report emphasises that not only is Australia’s natural environment in an overall state of decline, but “has suffered from 2 decades of failing to continuously improve the law and its implementation”. 

Samuel also identified the inadequacy of the Act to effectively harness and incorporate the expertise of Indigenous Australians in decision-making processes. 

There are 38 recommendations for reform, amongst them to immediately develop and implement National Environmental Standards and the establishment of an Environment Assurance Commissioner. 

Importantly, Samuel emphasises the fundamental responsibility of the Commonwealth Government to fulfill its environmental management responsibilities and demonstrate leadership in the protection of the environment.

He says: “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.

Disappointingly, Samuel continues to recommend devolving approval powers to the states, something that reflects his “cut red tape’ philosophy. While the Federal Government has already started advancing its agenda to offload its environmental responsibility onto the state and territories. states and territories will need to decide whether they want to take on the responsibility of undertaking approvals and compliance. 

We will be strongly urging the ACT Government that this isn’t in their interests, nor the interests of our local environment. And as a major proponent of development in the Territory, the ACT Government shouldn’t be in charge of protecting matters of national environmental significance.

The Federal Government is yet to formally comment on the release of the report and its recommendations.

The final report is available here.