In the context of last summer’s raging bushfires across Australia, and the current COVID-19 pandemic, the Australian Government’s Independent Review of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) led by Professor Graeme Samuel AC (Review) could not be more timely. A discussion paper was released in November 2019 (Discussion Paper).
Business, developers, government and the Australian public have been invited to make submissions across a broad range of topics from the efficacy of the current legislation, being the primary national environmental legislation, to the contribution of Indigenous cultures to environmental management and the importance of ecologically sustainable development (ESD).
In this article, we consider the key issues raised by the Review and in particular the interaction with Indigenous knowledge and culture in guiding change.
The Review commenced on 29 October 2019 with an Expert Panel advising Professor Samuel on the issues arising from the Terms of Reference. The Indigenous Advisory Committee and the Australian Heritage Council are also being directly consulted. The Review is expected to take 12 months with a final report and recommendations due for release in October 2020.
Terms of Reference
The Terms of Reference (ToR) for the Review are broad and include examining the operation of the EPBC Act and the extent to which the objects have been achieved, in addition to making recommendations to modernise it to include consideration of:
The role of Indigenous culture and knowledge in environmental management and law
The objects of the EPBC Act currently recognise the role of Indigenous culture and knowledge:
The Discussion Paper developed as part of the Review notes that “there is growing recognition of the value of involving Australian communities, particularly Indigenous Australians, more directly in managing the environment.” (p14).
In particular the Discussion Paper includes as possible future changes to the EPBC:
Making a submission to the Review
Taking into account the complex patchwork of legislation across the Commonwealth, States and Territories, including in relation to planning and development law, simplifying the framework in accordance with the guiding principles should be a key part of any reform to the EPBC Act.
It will be interesting to see how the Review considers and reconciles interaction between existing State, Territory and Commonwealth legislation governing Aboriginal cultural heritage.
Holding Redlich can assist with submissions to the Review. Submissions are due on 17 April and it is noted on the Australian Government website that it is continuing on schedule despite COVID-19. Further updates will be forthcoming as the situation progresses.
The information in this publication is of a general nature and is not intended to address the circumstances of any particular individual or entity. Although we endeavour to provide accurate and timely information, we do not guarantee that the information in this newsletter is accurate at the date it is received or that it will continue to be accurate in the future.