Australia’s central piece of environmental legislation is the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). It provides a legal framework to protect and manage Australia’s natural environment including nationally and internationally important:
- ecological communities
- heritage places
- marine areas.
The 10 yearly independent statutory review of the EPBC Act was led by Professor Graeme Samuel AC. The Final Report of the review was released in January 2021.
The review found that significant reform of the EPBC Act is required. The government is committed to working through the full detail of the recommendations with stakeholders.
Pathway and timeline for reform
The Australian Government has released A pathway for reforming national environmental law accompanied by a proposed timeline that outlines the Government’s intended timing for reform and further engagement with stakeholders.
Together, the pathway and timeline will guide the reform of Australia’s national environment law following the independent review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), conducted by Professor Graeme Samuel AC.
Immediate reform priorities
The Australian Government is committed to a staged program of reforms aligned with the EPBC Act Review, starting with implementing single touch approval processes, National Environmental Standards and rigorous assurance monitoring.
The Australian Government has made significant investments to deliver its priority reform agenda including:
- $10.6 million to support the delivery of single touch approvals with states and territories.
- $9 million to establish and operate an Environment Assurance Commissioner to independently audit and monitor the operation of single touch approvals with states and territories, as well as Commonwealth assessments and approvals under the EPBC Act.
- $2.7 million to develop a pilot regional plan for a priority development region in partnership with a willing state or territory. Regional planning will help to identify and protect important environmental assets, leading to better environmental outcomes. It will also give business greater certainty and clarity of their environmental approval requirements, by helping to identify the most appropriate areas for development.
- $0.5 million to support the government’s commitment to continue stakeholder engagement on modernising and strengthening the protection of Indigenous cultural heritage.
Single touch approvals
Single touch approvals will allow states and territories to approve projects on behalf of the Australian Government for certain Commonwealth protected matters. This will reduce duplication and speed up approvals. Single touch approvals will be underpinned by new National Environmental Standards and will be supported by strong assurance measures. This reform is aligned with the key findings of the review. It has been agreed by the National Cabinet.
On 27 August 2020, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Streamlining Environmental Approvals) Bill 2020 was introduced to the Parliament to support single touch approvals. This Bill makes technical amendments to the existing provisions of the EPBC Act to ensure approval bilateral agreements with states and territories are efficient, effective and enduring. Information on the progress of this Bill is available on the Parliament of Australia website.
National Environmental Standards
New National Environmental Standards will initially reflect existing requirements of the EPBC Act and will underpin single touch approvals. This will ensure strong environmental protection is maintained.
On 25 February 2021, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Standards and Assurance) Bill 2021 was introduced to the Parliament. This Bill provides for legally enforceable national environmental standards, and strong assurance through the creation of an independent Environment Assurance Commissioner. Information on the progress of this Bill is available on the Parliament of Australia website.
A final draft National Environmental Standard for matters of national environmental significance (MNES) has been developed to support progression of single touch agreements with all states and territories. The Standard for MNES reflects the current requirements of the EPBC Act, and clearly outlines the requirements for decision-making, including environmental assessment and approval decisions. This will ensure the same rules apply, regardless of whether an approval decision is made by the Australian Government or a state or territory. This is an important step to progress discussions with states and territories on single touch approval arrangements. The Standard will be formally made once the EPBC Amendment (Standards and Assurance) Bill 2021 is passed.
Final draft National Environmental Standard (Matters of national environmental significance) 2021 (PDF - 360.29 KB)
Final draft National Environmental Standard (Matters of national environmental significance) 2021 (DOCX - 118.97 KB)
Environment Assurance Commissioner
The Environment Assurance Commissioner will independently monitor and audit the systems that support approval decision making. This includes the operation of approval bilateral agreements and Commonwealth processes under the EPBC Act for making and enforcing assessment and approval decisions. The Commissioner will ensure that single touch approvals systems are working as intended and are upholding the requirements of the EPBC Act.
The Environment Assurance Commissioner will be:
- a statutory appointment, independent of government and not subject to directions by the Minister for the Environment
- housed within the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment and supported by dedicated departmental resources.
The Commissioner will be established ahead of the commencement of the first single touch approval agreement.
Faster approval of major projects
We are working with states and territories to reduce assessment and decision times for 15 major projects.
- are of national economic or strategic significance
- will provide more than $72 billion in public and private investment
- support tens of thousands of jobs.
On time key decisions
The Australian Government has committed $54.5 million over 3 years (January 2020 to December 2022) to reduce unnecessary delays in environmental approvals.
We have sped up environmental approvals with 99% of key decisions made on time in the March quarter of 2021. This reduces costly delays to business.