EPBC Act review maps a new way forward

NFF pushes for economic return for environmental outcomes

Opinion
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The Samuels Review recognises the Act as a blunt tool, that is poorly understood, poorly communicated and which overreaches in its pursuit of protection of matters of national environmental significance.

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Farmers have never liked the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

The National Farmers' Federation and its members have been calling for the reform of this draconian, complex and ineffective law for more than 10 years.

This week, with the release of the interim report of the Samuels Review, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Picking up on many of the points made in NFF's submission, the Samuels Review recognises the Act as a blunt tool, that is poorly understood, poorly communicated and which overreaches in its pursuit of protection of matters of national environmental significance.

Since its introduction, farmers have felt like they have been captured by laws that were designed for developments like mines or urban expansion in a one-size-fits-all approach.

Also read:Environmental laws fail both sides of the fence and need overhaul

Regardless, no matter how much we criticise the Act, there will always be a community focus on biodiversity decline and in some parts of the wider community, a desire to put more constraints on land managers.

The review from Professor Graeme Samuel has been a focus for NFF, and has now, in its interim report, mapped a pathway for much-needed and long overdue reform.

The NFF, through the Craik and Samuels reviews, has stridently argued for a recognition of the failures of the Act including it's unnecessary complexity, its reliance on poor data, the failure to focus on feral animals and their significant contribution to biodiversity decline; and the uncertainty it creates for farmers carrying out their day to day business.

The NFF and its members continue to argue the legislation is ill-equipped for landscape scale controls.

Regardless, significant resources have been put towards influencing a new way of thinking. One that recognises the obvious: that farmers have a strong vested interest in sustainable land management. After all, we do manage 51 per cent of the Australian landscape.

The NFF and its member organisations support a move to natural capital systems that create markets that incentivise farmers to voluntarily participate where there is an economic return for an environmental outcome. This is opposed to the current model which uses a stick, rather than a carrot approach.

The NFF has a goal for 5pc of farmers' incomes to be derived from ecosystem services by 2030.

Those of us at the NFF will seek to influence the outcome through policy, advisory and project works such as the biodiversity certification project currently underway.

Another key need is good, scientific, digitised and appropriately protected (private) data. Again, Professor Samuels has recognised this as an important area for reform.

At the end of this there will still be an EPBC Act, and it won't be perfect. The NFF's job is to do what it can to make it the best version of itself and to protect farmers' interests through sensible and sustainable reform.

  • Tony Mahar is the NFF chief executive officer.

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The story EPBC Act review maps a new way forward first appeared on The Land.

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