Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act: an ongoing failure

25 Jul 2006

The Federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act) has failed to provide adequate protection for the environment and is currently a waste of taxpayers’ money argues Andrew Macintosh. The legislation has cost taxpayers somewhere between $72 million and $180 million to administer, but after six years it has not resulted in any significant improvements in environmental outcomesIn July 2005, the Australia Institute published a discussion paper on how effective the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) had been in the first five years of its operation. The paper concluded that the Act’s environmental assessment and approval (EAA) regime had ‘failed to produce any noticeable improvements in environmental outcomes’ (Macintosh and Wilkinson 2005, p. vii). More specifically, it found that the actions that were having the greatest detrimental affects on the matters of national environmental significance were rarely referred to the Federal Environment Minister and, when they were, the Minister had failed to take adequate steps to ensure appropriate conservation outcomes. Further, despite evidence of widespread non-compliance, the Commonwealth had only taken two enforcement actions in relation to the EAA regime in five years.

This paper reassesses the statistics on the operation of the Act on the sixth anniversary of its commencement to determine whether there are any signs of improvement. The task of analysing the EAA regime has been made more difficult because since the Australia Institute’s discussion paper was published the Commonwealth has failed to publish regular statistics on the operation of the Act. Consequently, the data presented here is drawn primarily from the Commonwealth Department of the Environment and Heritage’s (DEH) public notices website.1 Due to difficulties associated with the website, the statistics may contain minor errors.

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