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Government Review of EPBC Act Urgently Indicated

We are writing to you today to express our grave concerns at the current effectiveness of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) It is our understanding that this piece of legislation was implemented in order to protect Australia’s unique and fragile environment and we fear the act is failing to do this. This act IS failing to protect critical habitat for endangered bird species.

We have recently had representatives from our club attend the BIGnet conference in Canberra where delegates from the majority of the state of NSW’s and ACT’s Birding Groups meet bi-annually. This meeting runs over two days and begins with a Conservation Officer’s forum. It was pointed out by one delegate that the forum had spent the first hour discussing several NSW habitats that were under immediate threat and would affect two major bird species – the Swift parrot and Regent Honeyeater- that are currently listed as endangered and critically endangered. (Current data shows the population of Regent Honeyeaters has decreased in the past several years and estimates show there may be as few as 250 birds left in the wild.) Concerns relating to building permits and clearing of huge sections of pristine habitat for these two species were raised. Breeding records for the Regent Honeyeater are proven in at least one of these areas where the entire section of land the birds utilised to breed and raise young is to be cleared.

This led the meeting to a discussion of the current environmental legislation. We plan to write to our state and local members and the opposition and will be sending them copies of this letter so that they can be made aware of our concerns.

We see four main problems:

  1. EPBC Approval seems to be too easily given, in some cases, even given without sufficient documentation to prove that an area scheduled for development is not utilised by protected or endangered species. There are cases where approvals have been given based on

mis-information. What controls are in place to ensure this does not happen? When/if it does happen what measures should be sought to rectify mistakes if they have occurred?

  1. Approvals or exemptions are given where threatened species are said to not be present and projects stall. Projects can then begin years later and no further approval needs to be sought. Habitats can change over the time projects are delayed. There needs to be a use-by date for approvals or some sort of appeals process if an area proves to be environmentally significant before development begins.

  2. Compensatory lands or wetland areas that are provided or built to offset developments need to have some monitoring done independently of the developer or council responsible after the developments are completed. Costs for this monitoring should be factored into the development application.

  1. Approval for a project is often granted that is adjacent to an area of environmental significance. If large scale development occurs in close proximity to a wetland or forest area it can have a major impact on the species which utilise the area. Currently we have a local area approved for development and a road will be constructed right beside a wetland utilised by Pink-Eared, Blue-billed (currently breeding and with young), Freckled Ducks and Australian Shoveler’s. The road and the urban development beside it will impact the wetland significantly and the species that utilise it.

The EPBC Act is there to protect our environment and while we understand it cannot be one hundred percent effective, it’s efficiency needs to be analysed to ensure it is meeting the needs of the wildlife that call Australia their home. Our wildlife is unique and we have a responsibility to protect and preserve it for future generations.

Illawarra Birders Inc.