Tue, 14 Jul 2020

Reviews and audits ignored as environment faces existential crises

Independent Australia
30 Jun 2020, 16:52 GMT+10

In 2009, the first independent review of the Federal Environment Protection & Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act) was undertaken.

Known as the Hawke review, its recommendations were wide-ranging, demonstrating considerable foresight.

The recommendations included:

Establish an independent Environment Commission to advise the government on project approvals, strategic assessments, bioregional plans and other statutory decisions; Streamline approvals through earlier engagement in planning processes and provide for more effective use and greater reliance on strategic assessments, bioregional planning and approvals bilateral agreements; Set up an Environment Reparation Fund and national "biobanking" scheme; Create a new matter of national environmental significance for "ecosystems of national significance" and introduce an interim greenhouse trigger; Improve transparency in decision‑making and provide greater access to the courts for public interest litigation.

Professor Hugh Possimgham took part in a scientific workshop providing expertise to the independent review. In a recent interview on ABC radio's Late Night Live, Professor Possingham focused on the current independent review of the EPBC Act, the second review as required under the legislation. He advised that none of the recommendations of the first review have been undertaken.

In mid-June, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced plans to fast track 15 major infrastructure projects, including the inland rail project from Melbourne to Brisbane. This project is massive and the environmental concerns raised are also immense with the potential to destroy critical areas of habitat.

The1800-kilometre Inland Rail link proposes to get freight by inland rail between Melbourne and Brisbane within 24 hours and to reduce national freight costs by $10 a tonne.

It estimates it will create 16,000 jobs and inject more than $16 billion into the Australian economy.

The $10 billion project has been met with strong opposition from the farming community, scientists and environmental organisations.

Aside from major flooding risks, wildlife will once again lose out.

More koalas will be sacrificed on the altar of economics and economic growth. According to a report in the Brisbane Times, University of Queensland koala researcher Dr Bill Ellis said the Inland Rail project runs through the Queensland Government's new preferred koala conservation zones, south-west of Ipswich.

Dr Ellis said these were areas where the latest Queensland government koala management plan was trying to preserve koala habitat, rather than the coastline:

Under these new infrastructure project plans, approval times will be cut in half.

An ABC report indicates that:

An interim report on the second review of the EPBC Act is due to be tabled with the Minister for the Environment, Sussan Ley in June. Thus far, it has yet to appear.

However, on June 25 the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) released its audit of the EPBC Act. The report is damning:

The audit objective and criteria are defined as:

To form a conclusion against the objective, the ANAO adopted the following three high-level audit criteria:

The first recommendation of the audit sums up the failures of the EPBC Act:

Back in 2014, the ANOA conducted a similar audit of the EPBC Act. The conclusions included the following:

Another ANOA audit was undertaken in 2017. The primary conclusion was that:

With an interim independent review ready to be submitted, questions need to be raised.

What exactly is the purpose of reviews and audits if no recommendations are undertaken? Are they simply futile exercises?

Why is the Morrison Government, together with state governments, ignoring the conclusions of these important audits?

What is the purpose of the duplication of the audit and review? How much have both projects cost?

The reports and audits make it clear that the EPBC Act is not functioning thanks to massive funding cuts and government policies that might very well lead to the extinction of important species and habitats.

In an exclusive IA interview with Greens Senator Janet Rice, Chair of the Senate Inquiry into Faunal Extinction, detailed some of the findings of the inquiry's interim report.

Her words are prophetic:

As no legal challenges are capable of forcing the Federal Government to implement recommendations of Senate inquiries, reviews and audits, Australia's wildlife and environment are in critical danger.

There has never been a more urgent need for a Royal Commission with extensive powers to investigate the role of the Federal and state governments' policies of extinction. The ramifications to future survival and the economic impacts of this extraordinary rejection of the necessity of such life support systems must be a national priority.

Sue Arnold is an IA columnist and freelance investigative journalist. You can follow Sue on Twitter @koalacrisis.

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