07 May 2021

EPBC: APPEA supports phased introduction of National Environmental Standards

Earlier this week, APPEA appeared before the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee regarding the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Amendment (Standards and Assurance) Bill 2021. 

The Standards and Assurance Bill proposes frameworks that will establish a set of National Environmental Standards (NES) to be implemented by the states and territories and overseen by an Environment Assurance Commissioner. The Government has proposed interim NES that reflect the current requirements of the EPBC Act. 

APPEA supports these revisions, including the proposed interim NES. EPBC reform is critical to reduce duplication of environmental regulation between the Commonwealth and the States. A rigorous environmental protection regulatory framework with a nationally consistent set of standards will help to avoid unnecessary project delays and improve job and investment settings, not only for the Australian oil and gas sector, but for many industries. For an industry with large project costs such as oil and gas, a one- to two-year delay to a major offshore project can incur between $500 million and $2 billion in lost net revenue, according to the Productivity Commission.  

The establishment of NES in the EPBC Act combined with accreditation of state and territory governments to undertake approvals against the NES is seen as a major reform opportunity by APPEA and other industry groups like the Minerals Council of Australia, National Farmers’ Federation, and the Business Council of Australia.

Our recommendation to the Federal Government has therefore been that NES be introduced in phases with an initial focus on current legal settings and approvals bilateral agreements with the states and territories. This would reduce regulatory duplication, and provide certainty for industry, environmental groups, and communities. APPEA also supports the Bill’s proposal to establish a Environment Assurance Commissioner who would oversee such bilateral agreements.  

Australian oil and gas is an essential industry — oil accounts for about 40% of Australian total energy end use. Currently, nearly half of Australian homes are connected to a natural gas network. It is also an industry that supports around 80,000 direct and indirect jobs across the country and currently vies with Qatar as the world’s leading LNG exporter. 

Effective, streamlined regulation will help to expedite project delivery, improve environmental outcomes, and attract the industry investment that will continue to propel Australia as it continues to recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.