Environmental law reform needs to improve outcomes and not risk future investment

Business Council of Australia

Australia’s environmental laws need to strengthen environmental outcomes, while also providing greater certainty for future investment in projects linked to the net-zero economy and additional housing.

The Business Council has long supported the need for reform of Australia’s EPBC Act to give better clarity on project approvals and ensure efficient decisions are made. There is also agreement that there needs to be significant improvement in environmental outcomes.

BCA Chief Executive Bran Black said further consultation is welcomed to make sure any draft legislation appropriately balances environmental outcomes with the economic and social needs of the community.

The BCA had called on the Government to provide an exposure draft of the legislation to enable a transparent and open discussion about what is a very complex policy area.

“The proposed full package of these reforms represents major policy change and the Government is taking the right step in undertaking further consultation on the bulk of the changes, to ensure settings are fit-for-purpose,” Mr Black said.

“Any change to environmental laws needs to factor in what impact they will have on future investment in crucial sectors we need to grow – such as renewable energy, critical minerals, housing, infrastructure and mining projects.”

The BCA also welcomes the additional funding to assist in processing applications which have been held up to due to a lack of resources.

However, there are concerns around the establishment of Environment Protection Agency (EPA) and its potential decision-making powers.

“An independent EPA makes sense for enforcement and compliance. However, we are concerned that a possible next step for these reforms, in stage three, is giving it decision making responsibility for projects, which risks diminishing the power and responsibility of the elected minister,” Mr Black said.

“As is the case now, the Minister must be responsible and accountable for making decisions which consider broader public and community needs, by weighing up the environmental, social and economic impacts of a project.

“We believe this is a crucial issue and will consider the details of the stage two Nature Positive Reforms when the bills are released.

“If these concerns are not addressed it could drive further investment away from Australia, which will impact our future economic growth and competitiveness, and run contrary to the Future Made in Australia agenda.”

Further consultation also needs to include how the EPA would operate, while increased penalties need to be proportionate to the extent of a possible breach.

The BCA is supportive of more funds being directed to enhancing support for decision-making, streamlining of processes, investment in the regional planning framework and better environmental information for projects.

The establishment of the Environment Information Australia is a positive step in ensuring businesses and communities have transparency in their data.

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