New Ground | Expert Environmental Consultants in Queensland

Navigating the EPBC Act Reform: A New Era for Australia’s Environmental Protections

At New Ground, we are dedicated to helping businesses navigate complex environmental and planning regulations. As specialists in this field, we understand the challenges that regulatory changes can bring and the need to adapt swiftly to maintain compliance. The landscape of Australia’s environmental regulation is changing, with the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) in the process of a significant reform.

What is the EPBC Act?

The EPBC Act is Australia’s central piece of national environmental legislation, designed to protect and manage matters of national environmental significance. It covers a broad array of environmental protections, including threatened species and ecological communities, migratory species, Ramsar wetlands, Commonwealth marine areas, and more. This comprehensive legislation also addresses heritage protection for places of national and world heritage significance.

What’s changing? 

In December 2022, the Australian government released its response to the Independent Review of the EPBC Act, introducing a comprehensive reform plan known as the Nature Positive Plan. The Nature Positive Plan ushers in a transformative period for environmental safeguards in Australia, with an anticipated introduction in late 2023 and further elaboration of its specifics in the subsequent year.

Introducing the Environment Protection Agency (EPA)

One of the initiatives outlined in the Nature Positive Plan is the establishment of the new Environment Protection Agency (EPA). This agency will take on the vital role of deciding whether developments that affect the environment can proceed – a responsibility previously held by the federal environment minister. The EPA will also be responsible for enforcing and ensuring compliance with environmental laws. This represents a major shift in the environmental regulatory landscape, and understanding the EPA’s role and powers will be crucial for businesses moving forward.

National Environmental Standards: A New Guide for Decision-Making

The reform also mentions the implementation of National Environmental Standards. These standards will guide decision-making and improve environmental protections in five priority areas: matters of national environmental significance, First Nations engagement and participation in decision-making, community engagement and consultation, regional planning, and environmental offsetting. These standards will provide a clearer framework for businesses and stakeholders to work within.

A Traffic-Light Approach to Development and Environmental Protection

The reform also outlines a three-tiered system that will be introduced. This system uses a traffic-light approach to development and environmental protection: development will be largely off-limits in areas considered to be of high environmental value, managed in areas of moderate value, and no commonwealth approval will be required for “development priority areas”. This new approach will require a nuanced understanding of region-specific environmental values and development priorities.

Overhauling Australia’s System of Recovery Planning

Lastly, the government plans to reform Australia’s system of recovery planning. This new approach will strengthen protections by requiring decisions to be consistent with any type of conservation document. Previously, this rule applied only to species and habitats with an active recovery plan.

How New Ground Can Help

The EPBC Act reform represents a significant shift in Australia’s environmental regulatory landscape. At New Ground, we are here to help businesses navigate these changes. We can provide guidance on the EPA’s new role and responsibilities, assist in understanding and adhering to the new National Environmental Standards, and help navigate the new tiered approach to development and environmental protection.

The reform is ongoing, and we are committed to staying at the forefront of these changes. For up-to-date and relevant advice navigating the EPBC Act Reform, contact New Ground today.

For further information, the full Nature Positive Plan can be found here.

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