The social, environmental and business benefits of going beyond compliance
A review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), its ineffectiveness and the social and consumer demands for going above and beyond the Australian Government’s key environmental legislation.
The current 10 year review of the EPBC Act is in its final stages, following the initial discussion paper (November 2019) and subsequent interim report (June 2020). Close to 30,000 submissions were made in response to the interim review, which are all to be read and considered for the final report. In his 124 page interim review, the author, Professor Graeme Samuel deems the EPBC Act as ‘dated and inefficient’, as well as ineffective, not adequate for protecting Australia’s environment from a decline in light of development activities and climate change, and lacking in the inclusion of important traditional knowledge, all of which is not an encouraging view of the existing legislation.
The EPBC Act was established as a legal framework in 1999 by the Australian Government. Its purpose was to protect and manage nationally and internationally significant flora, fauna, ecosystems and environmental heritage sites. As such, this legislation, enforced into law, is Australia’s primary way to mitigate serious environmental damage to the nation’s biological inheritance, and in that light, it is extremely important. It protects everything, from threatened species to the very water systems that feed and nourish our communities.
The most interesting part of the interim report is that it clearly identifies key areas where the EPBC Act currently falls short of achieving these important prerequisites and proposes important directions for reform. In summary, the report highlights the importance of sustainable development into the future, with major areas of reform that include greater measures for protection and restoration of Australia’s natural environment, consideration of traditional cultural knowledge and values, as well as expanding the use of the Act to include ecological areas that are “still intact but face development pressure”, as opposed to dealing only with species and ecosystems in a current state of decline. This last reform measure had been presented as a major area of concern by Dr James Fitzsimons from the Nature Conservancy of Australia, in his submission to the review.
Also recognised in the report is that management of the environment is a shared responsibility. Yet it identified that the current Act falls short in providing efficient processes, access to information and enforcement of protective measures for threatened ecosystems and species, let alone those that are not yet listed as threatened. This highlights the even greater importance of cohesive collaborations between stakeholders such as developers, environmental advocates, researchers and consultants, who are at the forefront of providing research, information and recommendations concerning the environmental impacts of proposed development activities, particularly within ecologically sensitive areas or areas that contain habitat for EPBC listed species.
While the EPBC Act does have its limitations, we at Natura Pacific have focused on how the referral process can provide an opportunity to grow connections and rapport with stakeholders such as developers in order to achieve positive outcomes for environmental conservation and protection. But we push this even further, by nurturing our connections with key decision makers throughout this process where we have, in many cases, attained outcomes for the environment that go above and beyond the requirements for the Ministers approval, while also placing our clients in an admirable position to leverage our brand, social equity and environmental advocacy.
So how do we do this? Natura Pacific actively employs innovative leadership and efforts to understand the fine detail of each project we undertake – taking time to understand all the possible outcomes and putting effort into leveraging stakeholders’ environmental values to help them better position themselves within the community as responsible advocates for environment and sustainability.
As an example, in 2011 Natura Pacific was granted the responsibility of being the primary environmental consultants to the State-allocated 30-year development project at Yarrabilba, managed by Lendlease. Yarrabilba is a 2,222 hectare ‘Priority Development Area’ declared by the Queensland Government. The presence of a breeding population of koalas triggered an EPBC referral process, which required a Habitat Rehabilitation and Management Plan (2015) to be approved by the Minister. This plan provided measures for the management of existing fauna corridors, greenspace corridors and environmental protection zones, specifically targeting existing koala habitat and offset areas.
Through extensive land and aerial site assessment, on-ground research and rehabilitation and protection planning using our expert team over a 9 year period, we now have a thorough understanding of the site, its ecological values and significance, the requirements of the development and how to best go about fitting all of these factors together. Our purpose is to not only meet legislative requirements but to also meet the needs of stakeholders, the environment and community – it was through this process that the ‘Connecting Communities Project’ was born.
The ‘Connecting Communities Project’ came together in 2017 when Natura Pacific engaged in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Lendlease, TAFE Queensland and Queensland Corrective Services. The project was established after identifying the benefits of native seed collection for propagation and redistribution into local conservation areas through inclusive community initiatives. Natura Pacific facilitated both local school children and its own consulting staff to collect native seeds from local native vegetation areas, with particular focus on areas earmarked for development clearing. From there Natura Pacific’s MOU partners developed a certified education program in horticultural studies to be offered to prisoners of correctional facilities to undertake propagation of the native seeds and deliver tube stock ready for redistribution via community planting days.
The ongoing project, sponsored by Lendlease and administered by Natura Pacific, has without a doubt been a win-win for all parties involved, not to mention the local environment.
We are excited to share that, to date, over 2 million native seeds have been collected and over 37,000 tube stock have been planted in five different conservation areas each contributing to state and national habitat restoration targets – and safeguarding three threatened species from extinction! These results are a shining example of how responding to the minimal requirements of the EPBC Act referral can be extended to provide multi-tiered benefits from both a social and environmental perspective in a large scale high-density residential development.
More and more large corporations are welcoming opportunities to work with social enterprises such as Natura Pacific to help support their sustainability outcomes, triple bottom line and position in the community through positive social engagement.
Natura Pacific is a family-owned Social Enterprise. This means we subsidise school and community conservation projects with the profits made by the delivery of quality professional services. In other words, we do charity by doing trade. If you would like to talk about Natura Pacific’s services – environmental consulting, drone & GIS mapping, fauna spotter catcher and school and community environmental workshops – please give our friendly team a call on 1300 318 720.
Interim report (pdf saved in Kate folder): https://epbcactreview.environment.gov.au/resources/interim-report/
Interim review discussion paper (pdf saved in kate folder): https://epbcactreview.environment.gov.au/resources/discussion-paper
Habitat Rehabilitation Management Plan Yarrabilba (March 2015)
Re priority development areas: https://www.dsdmip.qld.gov.au/economic-development-qld/about-edq/priority-development-areas.html