Independent MPs say nature needs a strong independent cop on the beat

27 June 2024

For too long our federal government has failed to enforce our environment laws with vigour. 

An audit of 222 projects released in May found one in seven projects using environmental offsets approved under federal law had not complied with their approval conditions.

There is also clear evidence of illegal land clearing occurring around the country, putting at risk threatened species which are supposedly protected under federal law.

It's clear Australia needs a strong, independent cop on the beat.

It needs an Environmental Protection Agency which is independent of the government and department, and transparent in its decision making and more accountable to the Australian public for its performance.

Both the Samuel Review and the Nature Positive Plan found that a significant factor contributing to the community’s lack of trust in the Environmental Protection Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act is lack of transparency around environmental decision-making (including relating to compliance and enforcement activities).

The crossbench Independents will be moving amendments this week to achieve this goal.

As currently proposed by the government, the EPA is only a slight improvement on the current arrangements.

Under Minister Plibersek’s model, the CEO will be appointed by the minister. There is no separate governance board - a feature of almost all state EPAs.   

It will operate under delegated power and make decisions guided by an expert advisory board but there are no clear requirements on publishing decisions or when the EPA has deviated from the expert panel advice. 

The transparency of the EPA’s operations is crucially important in building public confidence in the integrity of its operations, and the default position should be publication within reasonable timeframes of decisions and relevant information.

This is clearly inadequate and is why we are urging the government to strengthen the EPA’s accountability and independence.


Zali Steggall, Member for Warringah:

“Clearer objects and duties for the EPA are needed in the bill to ensure greater scrutiny and accountability and make sure the EPA is effective in holding proponents accountable when they are failing to deliver the conditions of their project approval. “

“An Unacceptable Impacts section is also needed to save proponents unnecessary delays and costs.”


Dr Sophie Scamps, Member for Mackellar:

“I will be moving amendments in line with my Jobs for Mates bill so that the public can trust that decisions made by the EPA are in the public’s best interests and not influenced by strong industry lobbyists.”

 “This will include amendments to establish a separate governance board for the EPA which sits above the CEO, in line with most other state EPAs to strengthen its independence from ministerial influence and improve accountability.”

“I will also be pushing for a rigorous process for appointing the CEO, including advertising broadly, having clear requirements on expertise and using a panel to draw up a short list of suitably qualified people for the minister to choose from.“


Zoe Daniel, Member for Goldstein:

“To state that this is an EPA of modest ambition is an understatement to say the least.”

“If there is not to be a board to ensure it’s doing its job, there should be a parliamentary oversight committee to enable accountability, as there is for the National Anti-Corruption Commission.”

“And that is what I am proposing.”


Allegra Spender, Member for Wentworth:

“The new EPA is a step in the right direction, but we need much more transparency on how it will work.”

“If a future Minister overrules the EPA to make a captain’s call on a particular project, the public may be none the wiser. This creates the risk that environmental approvals could be shrouded in the same secrecy as the flawed system of the past.”

“My amendments provide greater transparency around decision-making under this Bill, and I welcome the continuing and constructive conversations with the Minister.”


Kate Chaney, Member for Curtin:

“We need a strong, well-funded, independent EPA with unambiguous functions and duties and an EIA with appropriate measurement, monitoring and natural capital accounting tools that enable it to manage significant data and establish a regional reporting framework.”

“We need to get this right and we need to get the rest of the EPBC reforms passed before the end of the year.”


Kylea Tink, Member for North Sydney 

“Communities are being ignored when it comes to environmental approvals. This needs to change. My proposed amendments aim to ensure the EPA is responsible for providing communities with access to information about potential projects in their region and enabling their participation in the environmental decision-making process.”

“My amendments would set minimum standards and requirements for consultation, ensuring communities have a genuine say on projects that may impact their environment and livelihoods. Collaborative community and outcomes-focused decision-making is essential to improving trust and delivering for our environment.”


Helen Haines, Member for Indi:

“If we have any chance of turning around the state of our environment, we must have a ‘tough cop on the beat’ - a truly independent EPA is what Australia needs and Australians deserve.

“The Government says the EPA will independently decide whether to approve or reject development proposals that impact the environment. But as it stands under the Bill right now, the Minister will still be able to make that decision herself – sidestepping the EPA through ‘call in’ powers.

“Large-scale developments are built in regional and rural communities like mine. These communities deserve to know when the EPA is making the decision and when the Minister is making the decision. 

“Transparency is absolutely vital if the EPA is to build public trust.”