Australia: Environmental Justice Australia concerned about lack of environmental law or ecology expertise on review committee

Lawyers Weekly reports.……A not-for-profit legal practice is concerned the government is not doing enough to protect Australia in light of the unprecedented bushfires and the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Due to the back-to-back crises hitting Australia, not-for-profit legal practice Environmental Justice Australia is concerned the government is wholly underprepared to proceed with a proper consultation into conservation laws, following bushfires and COVID-19.

The independent review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act) occurs only once every 10 years and is due to publish its final report at the end of this year, but the legal practice is calling for it to be postponed to ensure a consultation has taken “appropriate consideration” of recent health and environment issues.

The EPBC Act, when drafted over 20 years ago, was a “complicated negotiation with the state governments”, the Environmental Justice Australia group wrote.

“However, much has changed since then. The biophysical environment has changed with acceleration of climate impacts, serious and ongoing decline in health of the environment, and the catastrophic impacts of the 2019/2020 bushfires,” the legal practice wrote.

The other significant change since the EPBC Act was drafted is the change in powers by the Commonwealth to make laws for what were “traditionally considered state matters” – it is now well recognised that the Commonwealth has much greater powers to regulate in a broad range of areas, previously considered to be state-alone matters.

“These things combined warrant an overhaul of our federal environment laws, refocusing them so that Australia can start to reverse the decline in environmental trends and protect Australia’s critical natural assets,” Environmental Justice Australia wrote in a submission.

The federal government has already agreed to extend the submission deadline due to the bushfire crisis, but the timeframe for the interim and final review reports was not. Justice groups are calling for these timeframes to be extended until after COVID-19 passes.

Environmental Justice Australia is also concerned about the lack of environmental law or ecology expertise on the review committee, after Andrew Macintosh was stood down after he was named one of the commissioners of the bushfire royal commission.

“This, coupled with a lack of direct consultation with environment and conservation groups and ecology experts during the submission period due to the COVID-19 lockdown, gives us significant concerns about the outcomes of this review,” said the legal practice.

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