Australia's primary piece of environmental legislation is costly, ineffective, and duplicates state-based regimes, a survey undertaken by the Australian National University has found.
The study, undertaken by Andrew Macintosh of ANU's Australian centre for Environmental Law, surveyed more than 150 proponents of projects which had been referred to, and approved under, the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process contained in the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act 1999. The responses indicated that the EIA process, which is intended to target matters of national environmental significance, is excessively costly to both proponents and the Federal Government, and isn't generating improved environment outcomes.
According to Macintosh, the results indicated that there were a number of problems with the scheme. First, he said, the scheme wasn't capturing the projects and activities that posed the greatest threat to biodiversity and heritage, because those weren't being referred to the minister. In addition, the process is resulting in improved environmental outcomes in only about 10 per cent of the projects being referred.
The survey also indicated that since the scheme's introduction nine years ago the scheme had proven costly - the Federal Government racking up a bill of about $200 million and project proponents more than $500 million.
Despite the surveys findings, Macintosh said he believes the Commonwealth does have a role to play in protecting matters of national environmental significance but that the process could be improved.
"The Commonwealth has an important role to play, but it has to ensure greater cost-effectiveness and a fairer system for all players," he said.
"It could do this by greater use of regional planning processes, persuading state and territory governments to raise the standard of their own processes and then accrediting them, and providing greater clarity about when projects need to be referred to the minister."
The ANU study received support from The Australia Institute and the Minerals Council of Australia.
- Zoe Lyon