Saturday, February 27, 2021
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Liberal backbencher urges environment minister to speed up new protections | Australian politics

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Liberal backbencher Trent Zimmerman has raised concerns that new national environmental standards to improve protection for Australia’s wildlife will be brought in too slowly.

While legislation giving effect to the proposed standards was rubber-stamped at the Coalition party room meeting on Tuesday, Guardian Australia understands that a number of Liberals are concerned that the environment minister, Sussan Ley, has mishandled the overhaul Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.

The former competition watchdog, Graeme Samuel, reviewed the EBPC Act and concluded the regime was ineffective. The government is in the process of responding to the report’s recommendations.

A number of city-based MPs have been privately critical, with concerns ranging from why Ley dropped a recommendation to have an independent regulator too early in the deliberations, to the substance of the national standards and the timeline for implementation.

Zimmerman brought those concerns to the Coalition party room meeting on Tuesday. The prominent Sydney moderate noted Ley’s process would mean the final environmental standards would not be resolved for two years. According to MPs present at Tuesday’s meeting, Zimmerman said it needed to happen sooner.

While Zimmerman said the government needed to get on with implementing environmental protection more urgently, a National MP pushed back, noting farmers saw environmental protections as overly burdensome.

A bill to establish a framework for new national environmental standards and an assurance commissioner that would oversee and audit government decision-making that affects the environment was approved by the Coalition party room on Tuesday.

As previously reported, a set of interim national standards the government has proposed are not the standards Samuel recommended in his final report, which described in detail the environmental outcomes that Australia’s laws should achieve.

The government’s interim standards strip out Samuel’s recommendations and replace them with descriptions of existing processes in the EPBC Act, which Samuel found had failed.

It would take two years for a final set of standards to be developed.

Guardian Australia understands the proposed assurance commissioner would be independent, appointed by the governor-general and would sit within the environment department.

The bill is expected to be introduced to parliament shortly.



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