By the Wilderness Society Westside Community Group
On Referendum Day this year members of the Westside Wilderness Society Community Group held a stall at the Hobson’s Bay Wetlands Centre Open Day.
Following a smoking ceremony and Welcome to Country from the Bunurong Land Council, Westside Wilderness Society members had many conversations with Hobsons’ Bay residents.
Visitors to our stall were very interested to hear about the lack of public consultation and transparency in the Federal Government’s review and draft changes to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act). They were also shocked at the lack of action on such an important piece of legislation since the review of this act.
The Review, conducted by Professor Graeme Samuel was completed in October 2020 and received nearly 30,000 submissions from members of the public, community groups, and other organisations. The Review stressed the need for immediate reforms to bring laws into line with dire present-day circumstances and two years later, in June 2022, the Federal Government announced plans to implement the recommendations.
In late October the Government held a closed consultation with 30 ‘stakeholders’ including business groups and Non-Government Organisations (NGOs). They have since announced two public webinars which will comprise an explanation of the proposed changes and a Q&A. Two webinars, where the only format for feedback is a Q&A, is not acceptable as it does not provide community members an opportunity to have their voices heard.
This is very disappointing, and those we spoke to at the stall expressed their loss of trust in this government to deliver on the environment and the lack of transparency and community consultation throughout this process. They are wondering why they, as voters, don’t have any input into how the environment might be protected and rehabilitated. These are people who rely on nature to maintain and improve their wellbeing. They are also the same people who take holidays in places they love in nature. They, like many others, are concerned about Australia’s extinction rate of native species which is the highest in the world.
Environmental groups like the Wilderness Society have long campaigned for the public’s right to have a fair say in environmental decisions concerning development projects (new dams, new mines etc) that affect the habitats of Australia’s iconic native animals, many of which are now endangered. We all have the right to information, to public participation, and to challenge decisions that threaten endangered species. First Nations peoples in particular have rights to self-determination and cultural protection as well as free, prior and informed consent.
On Monday 16 October 2023 a letter was sent to Minister Plibersek, calling on her to enshrine a fair say for the community in the reforms of the Act. The letter is backed by over 55 group signatories including First Nations groups, state and regional conservation councils, community groups, and NGOs focused on nature conservation, the climate crisis, human rights, and transparency.
The closed-door consultation process for the draft reforms runs counter to those rights and risks deepening the integrity crisis engulfing environmental decision-making in Australia.
When the community has a fair say in decisions about the environment, the outcomes are generally better for people and for nature.
Add your name today to our petition to call for system change that will give communities the right to transparency, meaningful participation, and justice in environmental decision-making.
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