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Release of Mary the koala into the wild in Emmaville, NSW © WWF-Aus / Adam Krowitz

Release of Mary the koala into the wild in Emmaville, NSW © WWF-Aus / Adam Krowitz

Report urging fix to failing nature laws puts government to the ultimate test

28 Jan 2021

  • environmental laws
  • koalas
  • threatened species
A report released today mapping a pathway to help address Australia’s extinction crisis and reform failing nature laws will put the federal government to the ultimate test, says WWF-Australia.

The long-awaited report by the government’s independent reviewer Professor Graeme Samuel calls for significant reform of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC).

Samuel’s report says the EPBC Act is “ineffective” and “not fit to address current or future environmental challenges”. It calls for a comprehensive package of immediate changes, including establishing national environmental standards, stronger Indigenous engagement, and an independent statutory Environment Assurance Commissioner and Office of Compliance and Enforcement.

WWF-Australia’s Chief Conservation Officer, Rachel Lowry urged the government to heed Samuel’s warning not to “cherry pick from a highly interconnected suite of recommendations”.

“This is the ultimate test for the government. Any changes to our nature laws should come as an integrated package - a piecemeal approach is a risky and potentially damaging way forward,” she said.

“It is critical when putting an assurance commissioner in place that they truly have the power and independence needed to stop the devastating decline of our wildlife and wild places.

“WWF along with more than 26,000 Australians sent submissions calling on the government to establish an Independent Environmental Protection Agency with the resources and remit to properly enforce our nature laws. This call has been echoed by Australia’s eminent scientists, legal experts and members of the business community.

“Lack of compliance and enforcement is the single greatest failing of the EPBC Act. A recent assessment by WWF found that 93% of known threatened species habitat destruction has been destroyed without any referral, assessment or approval.

“This is why an independent protection agency must be at the heart of any reform to our nature laws. Without this, the government will have failed to put in place meaningful reform and will have missed a once-in-a-decade chance to turn around our extinction crisis.”

Ms Lowry also urged the federal politicians to establish new strengthened environmental standards before pushing ahead with legislation to transfer development approval powers to state governments.

“New, legally enforceable standards are the centrepiece of Graeme Samuel’s recommended reforms and they should be implemented alongside any shifts to approval powers,” she said.

“Australia is marching mammal species towards extinction faster than any other nation. If we are to turn this around, we must have strong environmental standards and an ‘independent cop on the beat’ to ensure our laws are finally enforced.

“Today's report places our current government’s environmental legacy at a precipice. They can choose to cherry pick recommendations and weaken our laws further, or follow the recommendations in full and lead Australia through to genuine reform.”

Australians can send a message to their local MPs asking for strong environmental standards and an Independent Environmental Protection Agency here.

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