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Farmers seek changes to cumbersome federal environment law

29 October 2019

The Nationals Farmers' Federation has high hopes for a review of the core tenet of federal environment law.

The release of the terms of reference and announcement of the independent panel to undertake the 10-year statutory review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999 was released today.

NFF CEO Tony Mahar said the current Act was convoluted and did not adequately recognise the relationship between biodiversity, conservation and agriculture.

"The Act was last reviewed in 2009 by Dr Allan Hawke," Mr Mahar said.

"Unfortunately, many of Dr Hawke's recommendations, some that remain relevant today, were not implemented."

Mr Mahar said the 'Craik Report' released earlier this year was essential reading in explaining the interactions between agriculture and the Act.

"This report, in which the NFF was closely consulted, details a number of areas of improvement in relation to agriculture that we draw to the panel's attention."

The NFF consider the following recommendations to be of particular importance:

• Locally relevant face-to-face Department of Environment outreach.
• More accessible, functionally improved and automated DoE systems, including codified certificates where EPBC approval is not require.
• Enhanced clarity for farmers around when to refer actions and when not to refer actions.
• Greater cooperation with state- and territory-based organisations (natural resource management organisations or similar) to improve harmonisation between state and territory and Australian Government legislation.
• Formally qualified farmer membership of the Threatened Species Scientific Committee and joint technical expert/farmer field testing of conservation advices more proactive and strategic regional planning to support protection of Matters of National Environmental Significance (MNES) (as opposed to reactive project-by-project assessment of impacts).
• Enhanced incentivisation of protection of MNES by farmers through the establishment of a National Biodiversity Conservation Trust to invest in MNES conservation where there is a public benefit.

Mr Mahar said the NFF would commend the Craik recommendations to the review and seek to closely engage with the review to get the best pathway forward for a sustainable agricultural sector.

"The final recommendation to establish a National Biodiversity Conservation Trust will be an important component of work that the NFF already has underway in the natural capital policy area.

"The NFF maintains that there is significant scope to maintain and improve environmental outcomes by establishing a market mechanism for sustainable agriculture practices including where they support the protection of biodiversity.

"The use of regulatory levers need to be considered in a balanced way which includes the influence of a market to provide an economic focus on mutually beneficial outcomes.

"Farmers continue to provide public good conservation outcomes at their own private cost. Rebalancing that equation using emerging market opportunities remains an important focus for the farm sector," Mr Mahar said.

It is anticipated that the review will consider streamlining decisions, how better to deal with offsets and where the Act can be made more efficient and, 20 years on, more contemporary.

The independent panel will be chaired by Professor Graeme Samuel AC and supported by Dr Wendy Craik AM, Professor Andrew Macintosh, Dr Erica Smyth AC and Mr Bruce Martin. The panel will oversee a review of all aspects of the Act and is scheduled to report within 12 months.

Media Enquiries: Media Enquiries: Laureta Wallace
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