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Australia urged to develop environment laws and reverse “decline of our iconic places”

The Morrison government must overhaul Australia’s environmental laws, including establishing new independent bodies to want on responsibility for monitoring the environment and enforcing compliance with the law, a once-in-a-decade independent review has found. The final report from the review of the laws finds the environment is tormented by twenty years of failure by governments to reinforce protection systems meant to form sure the survival of the country’s unique wildlife. The head of the review, the previous competition watchdog head Graeme Samuel, made 38 recommendations to rework the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act. They include short-term reforms, including the immediate introduction of legally-binding national environmental standards to boost protection, and longer-term changes needed to handle the “trajectory of environmental decline”.In a major shift, Samuel also called on the govt. to abolish the effective exemption from environment laws granted to any or all or any native forest logging covered by regional forestry agreements between the federal and state governments. Samuel said the govt. . would be accepting “the continued decline of our iconic places and thus the extinction of our most threatened plants, animals and ecosystems” if it shied off from the fundamental reforms recommended by the review. “This is unacceptable,” he wrote.

“A firm commitment to vary from all stakeholders is required to enable future generations to enjoy and like Australia’s unique environment and heritage.”

The Morrison government released the report on Thursday, three months after receiving it from Samuel. The report reiterates Samuel’s interim findings that Australia’s animals, plants and habitats are in unsustainable decline, and concludes the EPBC Act is failing both the environment and developers.Samuel concluded dealing with the laws had created a “cumbersome” system for business that duplicated some processes that exist at state level. But he said the EPBC Act was also unclear about what it had been trying to realize for the environment, which was now so stressed it couldn’t withstand current, emerging or future threats, including natural action. The centrepiece of Samuel’s recommendations was the creation of a novel set of national environmental standards that “should be adopted fully and immediately implemented”. Samuel called on the government to determine a fresh independent Office of Compliance and Enforcement with “regulatory powers and tools” that may sit within the Department of Agriculture, Water and thus the Environment. He also recommended the creation of two new officeholders: an environment assurance commissioner in charge for overseeing and auditing government decision-making, and a “custodian” in charge of managing and coordinating a national supply of information about the environment.

Samuel said successive governments had taken a “piecemeal” approach to the recovery and management of threatened species, and highlighted the failure to adopt and implement recovery plans or properly address major threats. The review recommended the introduction of regional recovery plans to handle threats and secure the survival of species and habitats across a landscape. The environment minister, Sussan Ley, said Samuel’s report was “far-reaching”, but didn’t hold a media conference to debate the report. the govt. has not released its response to the recommendations. Ley said in an exceedingly statement the govt. . was “committed to working through the whole detail of the recommendations with stakeholders”. “This is also a process which is able to take some time to complete, as Prof Samuel has flagged, and it is important that our legislation is suitable meeting the challenges facing our natural environment,” she said. She said the government. would still pursue its decide to try to pass legislation which will clear the way for the handover of federal environmental approval powers to state and territory governments. Samuel’s final report reiterates his interim recommendation that this occur under a framework of legally-binding standards. The report warns that while the govt.should consult the states and territories about the environmental standards, the “process can’t be one of negotiated agreement to accommodate existing rules or development aspirations”. “To do so would cause a patchwork of protections or rules set at rock bottom bar,” he wrote. The report makes detailed recommendations for standards covering threatened species, engagement with Indigenous Australians, legal compliance and enforcement, and environmental data and knowledge, with further standards to be developed over time. In particular, Samuel noted that governments had didn’t support the rights of Indigenous Australians in environmental decision-making and weren’t harnessing the “extraordinary value” of content in managing the environment. He found data and data about threatened species and habitats wasn’t easily accessible which good outcomes for both the environment and heritage – including the cumulative effects of habitat destruction – couldn’t be achieved under this laws. Conservationists welcomed the report and its recommendations, including the choice for an independent office of compliance.

“It is time to overhaul our national environment law with a full package of reforms that features strong legally-enforceable standards and an independent regulator – and these must be good before the govt. . pursues its Streamlining Amendment legislation,” said Basha Stasak of the Australian Conservation Foundation. “As Prof Samuel states, national environmental standards alone don’t seem to be enough. “Standards must be secured by strong, independent oversight and increased accountability.” The Wilderness Society (TWS) said the review had accepted the view of scientific and legal experts, and also the community, which had “overwhelmingly” necessitated changes which may halt the extinction of Australian wildlife.

“After all this work, after decades of worsening extinctions, out-of-control habitat loss and without reform, we can’t just have another round of this government choosing to consult and ignore. Our ancient and unique natural heritage is at stake,” TWS’s environmental laws campaigner, Suzanne Milthorpe, said. Labor’s environment spokeswoman, Terri Butler, said the cupboard and caucus would carefully consider the report’s recommendations “and any government response”.

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