With Australia failing to halt species decline and our biodiversity management systems broken, now is the time to establish a new independent agency to manage our nation’s biodiversity data, according to Australia’s leading scientists.
The recommendation by the Australian Academy of Science is part of a brief that has been sent to all Australian MPs and senators ahead of debate, expected in the Senate in November, on the Australian Government’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Streamlining Environmental Approvals) Bill 2020.
The government is arguing that the legislation forms part of phase one of Professor Graeme Samuel’s proposal for reform, with the amendments described as the first tranche of reforms associated with the legislative review of the EPBC Act.
Australian Academy of Science Fellow, Professor Craig Moritz, said the Academy welcomes the interim findings of the Samuel review.
“The Academy holds that all the recommended elements—National Environmental Standards, scientific evidence through high-quality data and analysis tools, and robust and independent assurance systems—are essential to ensure that devolved decision-making retains the confidence of the Australian people,” Professor Moritz said.
“The Samuels report is a comprehensive program for reform and should be pursued systematically and in full. In this context, parliamentary scrutiny to understand the implications of the Bill and the government’s plan for the implementation of the Samuel report is desirable.”
The brief by the Academy states that the governance, accessibility, evaluation and monitoring of Australia’s biodiversity information and data is broken.
“The Academy considers this is an unacceptable situation, one that is not tolerated in other domains such as weather information, biosecurity, health and welfare,” Professor Moritz said.
“The Academy is of the view that it is time to establish a new national biodiversity information system led by an independent agency.
“Such an agency would independently observe, analyse, forecast and warn on the state and trends of Australia’s biodiversity in the way that the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) provides information on Australia’s weather and climate.
“It would need to have a legislative mandate, curate data, work with states and be empowered to enforce national environmental data standards.
“All decisions made under the EPBC Act require scientific evidence backed by reliable data. A transparent, accountable evidence base calls for data to be collected according to common requirements and standards, interpreted and reported, and for that information to be publicly available.
“There is currently no such multi-scale approach, nationally, to creating a data-focused evidence base for transparent and accountable EPBC decisions,” Professor Moritz said.
A key recommendation of Professor Samuel’s interim report is the establishment of a national environmental data custodian, or a biodiversity information agency.
The three elements of reform proposed by the Academy are:
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