21 April 2024

By Hannah Wilcox

North Sydney federal MP Kylea Tink has pushed to enshrine the public’s right to appeal federal environmental decisions.

Tink launched a new report, commissioned by Lock the Gate Alliance and written by Professor Kim Rubenstein and Associate Professor Joel Townsend, in Parliament House.

It comes amid concerns proposed reforms to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act are being watered down.

Lengthy consultations have ensued over Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek’s proposed “Nature Positive Plan”; a response to the Samuel Review in 2020.

The review’s 38 recommendations looked to strengthen and fix the EPBC Act – which the review blasted as “ineffective”, “outdated” and not fit for purpose.

Reforms were expected to be introduced into the Parliament before the end of last year.

The new research report recommends giving groups and communities the right to challenge large projects approved under the EPBC Act.

Enabling the public to have their say and make a difference in lawmaking would ‘drastically improve integrity in decision making, restore the public’s faith in a broken system, and lead to better outcomes for nature’, it stated.

Report author Professor Kim Rubenstein argued: “The mere presence of review rights is likely to lead to better, more informed decisions made not just by the government, but by companies when proposing new, potentially environmentally damaging projects.”

By allowing the community to seek merits review of environmental decisions, the Commonwealth will also be giving the public access to justice, she added.

Tink said on Tuesday: “In almost every other aspect of our day to day lives, Australians have the right to appeal the decisions that affect us: both on the basis of whether the decision was ‘technically’ or ‘legally’ correct and also whether it was morally sound.”

“To exempt environmental laws from an equivalent process is to miss this once-in-a-generation opportunity to fundamentally increase people’s confidence in the decision-making processes in this area.”

“Importantly, this report moves beyond supposition and provides the evidence that shows how the public’s confidence in environmental decision making would vastly improve, should merits appeal rights be expanded,” she added.

The MP argued this is an opportunity for the Federal Government to commit to doing politics differently and strengthen integrity protections. 

“Australians have already waited too long for the government to act on the recommendations of the Samuel Review, with aspects of the reform held back by years of politicking and delay,” Tink continued. 

“The Albanese Government will need to have the courage to deliver the full package of reforms in order to live up to its election promises and show us what it means to be working both for and with the community to create the country we all wish to live in.”