EIANZ comments on the Australian Government’s Response to the Hawke Report (EPBC Act Review).
Following the release of the Australian Government’s response to the recommendations of the Hawke Review of the EPBC Act, the environment profession will be disappointed that the Australian Government has missed an opportunity to improve both the functioning of the EPBC Act, and to underpin the delivery of improved environmental outcomes under its operations.
The EIANZ also recognises that the Government’s response also creates some opportunity to engage further with the Government in to deliver on its key actions arising from the review.
For many years the Institute has advocated that “Good environmental policy plus Good environmental practice will help provide Good environmental outcomes”. Unfortunately the Government’s response has missed an opportunity to underpin improved practice, and so has missed an opportunity to achieve better outcomes.
The Hawke Report received numerous submissions, that expressed significant concern in relation to with the quality and accountability of environmental practice. These comments related specifically to the preparation of project approvals documentation required under the EPBC Act, such as referrals and impact assessments.
This was acknowledged by the Government response which stated in its response to the review that:
“The Australian Government recognises there is concern in the community about the quality and objectivity of information provided by some proponents in environmental impact assessment processes”.
In the Institute’s view, and reflecting the view of its members, it could not be clearer that a problem does exist. In not accepting the recommendations of the review (to improve this area of the Act’s operation)the EIANZ believes the Government has missed a critical opportunity to address a problem that it acknowledges was brought to its attention by the profession and others.
The EIANZ will continue to seek the support of the Government to address this issue.
As a first step, the requirement for practitioners within the industry to commit to working within a code of ethics is critical.
This does not require the government to prescribe a specific code of conduct, as its response suggests.
Codes of conduct have already been developed by a range of professional bodies. What is required is the Government’s direct encouragement for practitioners to commit, and adhere, to a code of conduct.
To assure ethical and accountable behaviour, participants in the environment industry need to adhere to codes of conduct. All members of the EIANZ are required to, and do, meet this standard.
While identifying missed opportunities, the EIANZ also recognises that the Government’s response includes welcome developments, that can form a basis for immediate engagement with the Institute and the profession.
Amongst these, the EIANZ supports the Government’s call for expressions of interest for a new National Centre for Cooperation on Environment and Development.
The EIANZ agrees that this represents an initiative that can promote better decision making, and will enter into discussions with potential partners with a view to participation in this National Centre.
The new Centre is proposed to provide a neutral forum for industry, scientists, non-government organisations and governments to work together to
develop recommendations for national environmental standards, guidelines and procedures under national environment law.
Potential partners in this centre have been identified as universities, research institutions, government and non-government organisations. The Government’s intention is to seek partners who share the goal of greater cooperation to deliver better results in environmental decision making, and improve the community’s confidence in the operations of laws in this area.
The EIANZ agrees that this Centre will provide an opportunity for all of us to create good policy, with good practice and thus provide good environmental outcomes on the ground. This has been a long term objective of the EIANZ, and is therefore keen to support its development.
Bill Haylock, President of the Environment
Institute of Australia and New Zealand