Australia: A new national environment regulator

By neub9
2 Min Read

In Summary

Discussion papers have been released outlining the purpose and functions of the new Commonwealth Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The EPA will be established through new standalone legislation expected to be released in 2024. Other legislation, such as the anticipated “nature positive” legislation, is expected to replace the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) (EPBC Act) and confer powers and responsibilities on the new EPA Chief Executive Officer (CEO).

Below are the operations and implications of the establishment and functioning of the EPA for the future of environmental assessment of projects in Australia.

The responsibilities of the EPA include:

  • Issuing permits and licenses
  • Project assessments, decisions, and post-approvals
  • Education, compliance, and enforcement
  • Ensuring states, territories, and other Commonwealth decision-makers apply National Environmental Standards under accredited arrangements

This means that project proponents will engage with a new, independent agency through new processes, moving away from the existing ones, with a different set of responsibilities and accountabilities. We will provide updates on future developments.

Project assessment timeframes, lack of compliance, and enforcement actions have been criticized under the EPBC Act for a long time. The Samuel Review condemned many aspects of the EPBC Act, questioning the trust of industry, weak enforcement, and ineffective surveillance actions.

The EPA’s establishment is aimed at enhancing the protection of Australia’s environment, preventing degradation, delivering efficient and transparent regulatory decision-making, ensuring compliance and enforcement, and promoting public trust in environmental decisions.

While detailed operation information is forthcoming, the proposed draft discussion paper suggests a consultative approach for project proponents and regular operational and external reviews to ensure effectiveness and accountability.

The EPA’s success and addressing industry satisfaction with federal environmental assessment processes will depend on the level of federal resourcing and the legislation providing fit-for-purpose regulatory powers and tools.

1 Independent Review of the EPBC Act – Final Report, Professor Graeme Samuel AC, October 2020

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