Conservation groups aghast at reform speed

Rebecca Gredley
·2-min read

Conservation groups are calling on the Morrison government to put the brakes on making changes to environmental protection laws.

The government has been handed former competition watchdog chair Graeme Samuel's final report into the national environment protection laws, but a date has not been set for its public release.

Changes to the protection framework are already afoot based on Professor Samuel's interim report, with environmentalists concerned those proposals only face a two-week Senate inquiry.

The changes hand Commonwealth responsibilities for environmental assessments to the states by tweaking the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

The states would have to abide by a set of national standards, which have not been developed.

The underpinning bill is before the Senate and was referred to an inquiry on November 12, with the relevant committee deciding to report back by November 27.

Submissions close on Wednesday, with only one currently published online.

The Conservation Council of South Australia - representing about 60 groups - says the inquiry must be extended until after the final report is released.

"This is an extremely poor process," the submission says.

"Legislative reform should not be rushed through prior to the release and consideration of the final report of the Samuel Review of the EPBC Act.

"Establishing this committee to have hearings and report in only two weeks is a box ticking exercise, and does not enable proper scrutiny or accountability."

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young is calling on the crossbench to rule out passing the bill this year.

"If anyone considers the Senate's job of examining this bill to be done in this way they're a fool."

Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie has said she is not yet willing to hand Commonwealth responsibilities for environmental assessments to the states.

The influential crossbencher wants to see Prof Samuel's report before making a decision.

The interim review found the current laws are ineffective and Australia's environmental trajectory is unsustainable.

It recommended an independent environmental watchdog, which has been rejected by the government.