Call to review biodiversity offset scheme

small possum-like marsupial | Newsreel
A report reveals biodiversity laws are not delivering desired outcomes. | Photo: Moonstone Images (iStock)

A biodiversity offset scheme aimed at preserving natural habitat has not delivered on its goals, according to the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF).

Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act, the Federal Environment Minister can approve projects that impact threatened species and habitat on the basis developers compensate by conserving a similar place elsewhere, creating an offset site.

ACF biodiversity policy adviser Brendan Sydes said the Foundation looked into the legal protections for EPBC projects approved between 2008 and 2012 where an offset was required and found more than two thirds of approvals granted did not require adequate legal protection of the offset site.

“In other words, in 70 percent of cases, destruction of the original habitat was approved and the offset sites – which were meant to compensate for the destruction – were not adequately protected themselves, because the protection was not permanent, or it could be easily revoked, or it didn’t deliver conservation outcomes,” Mr Sydes said.

The ACF report, Set and forget: How offsets under national environmental law drive habitat destruction documented several instances of offset failure involving major mineral and resources companies.

“The biodiversity offsetting system under our national environment law is fundamentally flawed and allows for unique ecological communities to be continually chipped away at,” Mr Sydes said.

He said the report showed offsetting was not being implemented by the book, with multiple examples of environmental needs being disregarded.

“Australia’s system of biodiversity offsets needs a root-and-branch overhaul.”