A legal expert is concerned that Australia’s proposed environmental standards included within the proposed Nature Positive Act fail to provide accountability for the process.
The concerns mount to a lack of review mechanism for decisions made by the Environment Protection Authority (or EPA), with concerns that the standards will lead to a “yes minister scenario” with unelected bureaucrats making decisions without public scrutiny.
It comes as the standards process was revealed to industry this morning, which Environment and Water Minister Tanya Plibersek has developed as part of a revamp of environmental law.
The new standards have significant consequences for Australia’s $24 billion forest products, with Minister Plibersek vowing to apply the new law to the country’s Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs).
RFAs are federal-state deals that have effectively enjoyed an exemption from national environment laws on the basis that reserves and forest practice requirements are sufficient.
In effect, they are long-term plans for the sustainable management and conservation of Australia’s native forests.
In total, there are 10 RFA’s in four states covering commercial native forestry regions – five in Victoria, three in New South Wales and one each in Western Australia and Tasmania.
However, Stuart Coppock, Timber NSW’s legal expert, has significant concerns with the “current model on display.”
“Firstly, there are still significant information gaps in the model provided, and secondly, where there is information, it is not easily in the public domain,” he told the Wood Central Publisher after attending the briefing.
“I don’t understand why there is no external review process for EPA decision,” he said, before adding that the “most obvious place to put that is in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT).”
“It is cheap, quick and most important of all, available.”
The Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) conducts independent merits review of administrative decisions made under Commonwealth laws.
It reviews decisions made by Australian Government ministers across more than 400 departments and agencies and, in limited circumstances, decisions made by state government and non-government bodies.
However, crucially, it can only review a decision if a law states that the AAT can review the decision.
But this needs to change, according to Mr Coppock, to provide great credibility and integrity to the environmental standards.
“No one objects to giving nature a serious position in the policy process,” and “a review mechanism in the decision-making” will ensure that decisions are safeguarded from bias.
Wood Central understands that the first draft of the new legislation will be provided to NSW and Tasmanian stakeholders in two parts from December 2023.
‘Aside from the environment, the biggest issue facing Australia yesterday, today and tomorrow is productivity.”
‘As a rule,” Mr Choppard said, “strict environmentalists do not consider this.”
Once published, environmental standards included within the Nature Positive Act will be applied to RFA’s, which Wood Central understands will be a “lengthy process involving numerous groups and agencies.”