The next 12 to 18 months promise to be very busy for myself and my colleagues at EJA, with a significant number of reviews now underway.
These reviews are the result of hard work over many years by us and other environment groups concerned about the outdated and inadequate legal framework for protecting and restoring the environment in Victoria.
We’re pleased that the Victorian government and Environment Minister Lisa Neville have agreed to conduct reviews across a range of important areas and we are hopeful that significant reform will follow.
Many Victorians would be disappointed to learn that Victoria last developed a statewide biodiversity strategy way back in 1996. There is clear need to develop a comprehensive overarching policy for protecting and restoring Victoria’s valuable natural areas and caring for our wild plants and animals.
A review is now underway, with the aim of producing a new strategy by early 2016. Together with colleagues, I’ll be participating on the reference group for the review. We’ll ensure that the many individuals and community groups that share our passion for effective nature protection are heard during the course of the review and that we end up with an updated strategy that is comprehensive and suitable for monitoring progress and keeping those responsible for its delivery accountable.
Review of the Flora & Fauna Guarantee Act
Fixing the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act has been a project of mine since I first started at EDO Victoria 10 years ago. I’m very pleased that we now have an opportunity to give the legislation a thorough overhaul. Although it was groundbreaking legislation at the time that it was introduced, the Act has not met its potential and it has not kept pace with the times. Reform is badly needed and long overdue.
We were very pleased that the Andrews government committed to a review of the Act, a process that is now underway. The review will be undertaken in conjunction with the review of the Biodiversity Strategy outlined above, a sensible course I think, given the relationship between the two. We’re hopeful that with some dedication and hard work to realise the opportunities presented by the review, a clear reform agenda will emerge by this time next year.
Fixing native vegetation laws
We were very critical of the reforms to native vegetation regulations introduced 18 months ago, making the case that the reforms at that time tipped the balance way too far in favour of “streamlining” and offsets rather than protecting valuable habitat on private land.
A review of these regulations has now commenced, which we are hopeful will be an opportunity to sort out some of the problems with the new system and to reintroduce an emphasis on actually protecting native vegetation in Victoria.
Environment Protection Act Inquiry
Announced recently, an independent Ministerial Advisory Committee has been appointed to undertake a root and branch review of Victoria’s pollution control law, the Environment Protection Act 1970. This is a welcome opportunity to ensure that the Act remains up to date and relevant to today’s challenges. Terms of Reference for the inquiry have been announced and we’re expecting some more details soon.
Next generation environment law
While opportunities abound in Victoria, the situation is dramatically different at the Commonwealth level, with the Abbott government still seemingly determined to back away from its responsibilities under our national environmental law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Just as the current reform agenda in Victoria did not emerge overnight, but was a culmination of efforts over a number of years, we’re working on developing a long term agenda for reform at the national level as well.
An important element of these efforts is our work with a national coalition of environment groups seeking to not only defend existing environmental laws but also make the case for a “next generation” of these laws that are up to the task of meeting our current environmental challenges.
We’re currently providing expert legal support to the Places You Love coalition as we seek to re-imagine our biodiversity laws, supporting the work of a panel of top Australian and international environmental law experts on an ambitious project to develop the foundations for a “next generation” of Australian environmental law. My colleague Bruce Lindsay has explained more about this project here.