Conducted by Professor Graeme Samuel, the Independent Review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act was the biggest examination of the effectiveness of our nature laws over the past decade. Now, after tens of thousands of submissions and meetings with stakeholders, the report of the Review of Australia’s national nature laws has been delivered.
The Australian Government now has a robust blueprint for new federal nature laws to better protect our precious environment and arrest the extinction crisis.
The report makes a number of critical recommendations including:
1. Strong, outcome focused National Environmental Standards to guide decision making
2. Independent oversight and audit to build confidence that the Act, and the National Environmental Standards are working
3. A mandated, rigorous compliance and enforcement regime to ensure compliance and enforcement of environmental approval conditions
4. Outcomes-focused law, which will require the capacity to effectively monitor and report on environmental outcomes
5. Harnessing the knowledge of Indigenous Australians to better inform how the environment is managed
6. Recognition that environmental protection is insufficient to prevent our high and worsening extinction record and the need for immediate reform and Commonwealth oversight - a critical element to the ending of logging in the habitat of endangered species
Professor Samuel’s report still recommends granting environmental approval powers to State Governments. Proposed Draft Environmental Standards are a good start but not strong enough.
What happens from here?
With the case for reform so clearly outlined, our task now is to ensure the Morrison Government takes up the challenge. We have a huge task on our hands now to see Samuel’s recommendations turned into legislation in Parliament, to achieve the strongest nature laws possible.
1. Ongoing threats are still posed to globally significant natural places including offshore waters, the Great Australian Bight, native forests in several states, Ningaloo and the Great Barrier Reef, Aboriginal sacred sites and World Heritage sites;
2. Handing environmental approval powers to States is like having a fox guard the hen house;
3. The report found that “Australia’s natural environment and iconic places are in an overall state of decline and are under increasing threat” and that the EPBC Act 1999 “is not fit to address current or future environmental challenges.”
4. The Government attempted to pass the Environmental Approvals Bill 2020 before the Final Report from the Review was publicly available.
5. We would like to see:
-an independent regulator,
strong national environment standards,-a comprehensive assurance framework to ensure that laws are implemented transparently and guarantee the rights of communities to participate meaningfully in government decision-making, with legal rights like merits and judicial review.
...and from the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF):
“Well-Resourced Watchdog Needed to Protect Nature”
An independent national environmental watchdog, as proposed in a new bill presented to federal parliament today (22 March 2021), is critical to reversing Australia’s extinction crisis and protecting wildlife and ecosystems for future generations.
Basha Stasak, nature program manager at the Australian Conservation Foundation, said ACF welcomed the Commonwealth Environment Protection Authority Bill, introduced to the House of Representatives by Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie.
“ACF has long called for a national Environment Protection Authority to independently assess the environmental impact of proposed commercial projects and check for compliance with our country’s laws and regulations,” Ms Stasak said.
“Last year the Australian National Audit Office delivered a scathing indictment of the federal government’s administration of our national environment law, documenting ‘poor and unlawful decision making’ and a failure to manage conflicts of interest.
“The audit office’s concerns were echoed by Professor Graeme Samuel in his thorough review of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, which found compliance and enforcement of the EPBC Act was weak and ineffective.
“The audit and Professor Samuel’s review show why we need stronger environment laws and an independent regulator to enforce them.
“When political interference shapes what should be independent science-based decisions it hampers the effectiveness of our environment laws and saps the community’s trust.
“Australians expect robust accountability and oversight when it comes to protecting unique species like the koala, the platypus and the bilby, which we hold it trust for future generations.
“Establishing an independent national Environment Protection Authority that operates at arm’s length from government and is free from the interference of vested interest is critical to deliver the protection that our wildlife and ecosystems need and the community demands.
“We commend Mr Wilkie for introducing this bill and urge MPs to examine the proposed legislation closely through a parliamentary inquiry,” Ms Stasak said.
STATE ENVIRONMENT PLANNING POLICY (SEPP) REVIEW, [with respect to the impact on Koalas]
In our view, for protection of koalas and their habitat, the SEPP guidelines should be strengthened:
1. Prohibit the clearing of core koala habitat for all developments.
2. Apply the SEPP so that it covers land less than 1 hectare in size.
3. Strengthen the SEPP so that core koala habitat can’t be cleared for the purposes of private native forestry and intensive agriculture.
4. End the deplorable practice of allowing developers to ‘offset’ destruction of core koala habitat.
Since the government announced that six sanctuary protections would be rolled back in Batemans Marine Park, communities have been under enormous pressure. They battled bushfires and COVID-19, and local businesses struggled to survive. But they were encouraged to see local representatives looking after their health and future, by listening to science and the experts.
Now, they ask that we protect our natural heritage in the oceans as well by restoring full protections in Batemans sanctuaries. The sanctuaries put at risk by allowing illegal fishing are as important as any in Batemans Marine Park. Four are in estuaries that hold important habitat for juvenile fish to grow to adulthood. Two others are next to our very special Montague Island - an International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Green Listed Protected Area and an important site for Australian Fur Seals, and a colony of Little Penguins. Removing sanctuary protection subjected these incredible animals to increased risk of injury from vessel strike.
The South Coast of NSW depends on tourism and hospitality sales of over $300 million, so they can’t afford to have people turn away from their coasts if our marine environment is degraded.
Almost 9 out of 10 local people believe that the most important benefit of Batemans Marine Park ‘is that the area is passed onto future generations in good condition’.
They ask that we trust the marine science that continues to describe the multiple benefits of marine sanctuaries. Scientists have found, consistently, that no-take areas are a necessary part of managing marine environments to protect them against degradation, and to protect fish stocks that are important to both recreational and commercial fishing.
The six Batemans Marine Sanctuaries have been open to fishing for almost a year now. Despite assurances that scientists and the public will be consulted on these changes, this has not occurred. Government should immediately remove the “amnesty” on illegal fishing in Batemans Sanctuaries.
White's seahorses, affectionately known as Sydney seahorses are a threatened species. Populations have declined due to habitat loss and degradation of seagrass, sponge and soft coral in Sydney harbour. Last year, after an intensive 10 month breeding program, White's seahorses were tagged and released into their harbour home using underwater 'seahorse hotels' specifically designed to attract and protect them. Marine scientists will conduct regular diving surveys to monitor their growth, survival and breeding in the wild.
Seahorses are tiny fish (2-35cm) and their scientific name is Hippocampus, meaning Horse Caterpillar. There are many species of seahorses and new species continue to be discovered.
They have a 1 to 5 year life span and are found in shallow tropical and temperate waters throughout the world's oceans in a range of habitats including seagrass beds and mangroves.
They can be monogamous, pairing for life and the only animal species in which the male bears the young. Males have a brood pouch into which the female deposits her eggs. The male then fertilises and carries the eggs in his pouch until they hatch.
Surprisingly, seahorses are very poor swimmers and rely on their curled, flexible tail to grasp objects and anchor themselves to vegetation. Their small dorsal fins assist movement and a 'swim bladder', a tiny pocket of air inside their bodies, helps move them through the water column.
Sadly, worldwide coastal habitat depletion, pollution and rampant harvesting have made several species very vulnerable.
With thanks to Australian Marine Conservation Society 2021 Summer newsletter.
From an article by Kerrie O’Brien, in the Sydney Morning Herald...
The desire to actively embrace nature through the senses has come into its own in Australia due to coronavirus, as many of us have felt cooped up and burnt out. The good news is you don’t need to live near pristine wilderness or a national park to practice forest bathing.
Forest therapy or bathing is a centuries old tradition that involves immersing yourself in nature. In the 1980s, busy, over-stressed city workers needed help to wind down and re-calibrate.
Susan Joachim, president of the International Nature and Forest Therapy and Alliance, said forest bathing can be practiced in your own garden or indoors, looking over trees and greenery. Joachim ran workshops in the practice and is now a mentor and trainer; she has created a podcast about the process, so anyone can try it themselves.
The physiological benefits of forest bathing are well-documented. The focus is on the senses, tuning in to the natural sounds and scents, as well as the visual: the many variations on green, flowers in bloom, butterflies and bees, “there’s all this natural activity”.
The benefits of getting out of the city and into nature were so clear, its practice today is funded through the Japanese health system. Other cultures embrace the idea too. In South Korea, people go to purpose-built Forest Recreation Centres, China is investing in forest therapy trails, and Germany is embarking on a clinical approach called "Klinische Waldtherapie", investment in research into the preventive medical benefits of the practice.
Ms Joachim said COVID forced us to rethink our priorities, our neighbourhoods, our way in the world. “Give yourself permission to slow down, that’s what we teach people on these walks, notice what is happening. Nature is supporting you to slow down and to connect and to notice.”
Ms Joachim studied the practice in Japan, South Korea and Germany. Researchers in each of those countries found that after a session, participants experienced clear physiological changes: blood pressure drops, heart rate variability is lowered. Anecdotally, participants also reported feeling less stressed, more relaxed and generally happier.
At Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens, forest bathing courses are held throughout the year; they were stopped due to COVID but are about to recommence. Groups are capped to 15 people (minimum age 12) and sessions run for two hours, finishing with a morning or afternoon tea.
In the Blue Mountains, two-hour nature therapy walks are held twice a day every Saturday along the Lady (Nancy) Fairfax Walk at Botanic Garden Mount Tomah and conclude with a Japanese tea ceremony (minimum age 13).
Forest bathing is accredited by the Australian Counselling Association and Ms Joachim wants to see it adopted as a public health preventative practice. Aside from its simplicity, she says, it has significant economic benefits, cultivating good mental health and keeping people out of the public health system. While it is especially relevant in a global pandemic, Ms Joachim said forest bathing helps address the stress and loneliness prevalent in western society as well.
Joachim says the notion is underpinned by the belief that humans are genetically predisposed to be attracted to the natural world. “We are from nature; we’ve forgotten how deeply connected we are.”
For more information see: forest-therapy-has-many-public-health-benefits
You will recall in Wallumetta (December 2020) we reported:
"November 2015, the NSW Government offloaded Vales Point Power Station — an old, polluting coal-fired plant on the shores of Lake Macquarie — for $1 million. Suburban homes sell for more!
On 8 Oct 2020, the 42-year-old Vales Point coal-fired power station was valued at $730 million and set to receive $8.7 million in public funding for plant upgrades, despite criticism that the funding is both unnecessary and could ultimately be used to increase the use of coal.
Then, 4 days later, Vales Point Power Station was fined $30,000 for pollution and waste offences, including licence breaches when contaminated material, including asbestos, was allegedly spread on the Vales Point Power Station site. Use of the premises as a waste facility is unlawful.
NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) Director Regulatory Operations, Adam Gilligan, said: “The EPA has issued Delta a clean-up notice to remove various surface stockpiles of asbestos waste and we are continuing to liaise with them regarding options for dealing with the remainder of the waste in the long term. Fortunately, on this occasion the waste was in an area that posed little risk to the community.”
Since this occurred Delta has made a number of improvements to their systems and procedures regarding accepting waste. “It is important to be aware of the risks involved when accepting dirt and other materials like this. If the correct procedures are not in place - it can lead to large fines and damage to the environment,” Mr Gilligan said.
The EPA investigates all reports of inappropriate transport or disposal of asbestos and reports can be made to the 24-hour EPA Environment Line on 131 555. Penalty notices are one of several tools the EPA can use to achieve environmental compliance including formal warnings, official cautions, licence conditions, notices and directions and prosecutions.
City of Ryde Council is undergoing an active process of renewing plans of management for several areas (including the Field of Mars). Members are encouraged to monitor the City of Ryde website and comment on these documents. Go to https://www.ryde.nsw.gov.au/haveyoursay/Home
Comments need to be submitted by the stated deadlines. Recent documents to which Society members have responded included:
City of Ryde Draft Open Space Future Provision Strategy closed for comments on 7 February and we responded on the Society’s behalf with several key environmental concerns including:
Generic Plan of Management – Natural Areas draft closed for comments on 21 March and the submission made on behalf of our Society again highlighted our desire to see an increase in natural areas and biodiversity. We also expressed concern that performance measures are based only on infrequent monitoring and observation, and should not be limited to the number of areas providing supplementary planting but should relate to the total increase in the natural area.
We asked for the annual performance reports to be tabled at relevant sub-committees of Council and relevant stakeholders to be invited to attend those meetings to discuss the reports with Councillors and Council officers, and we expressed preparedness to participate at these meetings.