The majority voted in favour of disagreeing with an amendment to the usual second reading motion, which is "That the bill be read a second time" (parliamentary jargon for agreeing with the main idea of the bill). This means that the amendment failed and that the bill will continue to be considered.
That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:
(1) noting that the bill:
(a) does the bare minimum by giving the Minister unclear, discretionary powers to create weak environmental standards with poor oversight;
(b) establishes a watered-down Environmental Assurance Commissioner with limited powers and little independence, which is a far cry from the strong cop on the beat recommended by Professor Graeme Samuel AC in his Interim Report of the Independent Review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999; and
(c) will do little to protect Australia's precious environment or reverse the current extinction crisis;
(2) the House:
(a) declines to give the bill a second reading; and
(b) calls on the Government to instead pass the Commonwealth Environment Protection Authority Bill 2021, which sets up a completely independent body with the power to strengthen environmental regulation, ensure accountability and achieve real environmental outcomes".
What is the bill's main idea?
The bill was introduced in order to amend the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) in order to establish:
- a framework for making, varying, revoking and applying National Environmental Standards and
- an Environment Assurance Commissioner (EAC) to monitor and audit the operation of bilateral agreements with the states and territories as well as to oversee Commonwealth processes under the EPBC Act for making and enforcing approval decisions.
The bills digest sets out the following 'Key Issues' relating to the bill:
- Industry groups broadly support the Bill, including the framework for National Environmental Standards and the proposed EAC. They consider this Bill, together with the Streamlining Bill, would provide certainty and clarity while addressing regulatory duplication in environmental approvals. However, several industry groups suggest that any National Environmental Standards made under the Bill should reflect the existing requirements of the EPBC Act.
- Other stakeholders, including environmental, legal and scientific organisations, generally do not support the Bill, expressing considerable concern. Many noted the lack of a comprehensive government response to the Final Report of the Samuel Review, and suggested that the Government was ‘cherry picking’ recommendations and making piecemeal reforms, rather than implementing the full range of ‘tranche 1’ reforms identified in the Final Report.
- Many of these other stakeholders also suggested that the Bill does not properly reflect the recommendations in the Samuel Review which the Bill is proposing to implement. Their concerns included:
- uncertainty as to the content and application of the proposed National Environmental Standards due to the broad Ministerial discretion provided, as well as the lack of parliamentary scrutiny of the initial standards and
- the proposed EAC’s limited powers, resourcing and independence.