Commonwealth Public Inquiry into access to biological resources in Commonwealth areas

John Voumard, Inquiry Chair
Commonwealth of Australia, 2000
ISBN 0 6425 4715 7

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About the report

The terms of reference required the Inquiry to advise on a scheme that could be implemented through regulations under s301 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 to 'provide for the control of access to biological resources in Commonwealth areas'.

The proposed access scheme

The Inquiry's proposed scheme provides for an access permit and a benefit-sharing contract.

Under the scheme, a party seeking access to biological resources in Commonwealth areas is required to apply for an access permit. As the regulatory agency under the scheme, Environment Australia would assess the application, in consultation with any other relevant Commonwealth agency, and make a recommendation to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage to grant or refuse the permit.

While the assessment is underway, the applicant would be required to negotiate, with the holder (or owner) of the biological resources, a benefit-sharing contract which covers the commercial and other aspects of the agreement. The contract would be based on a model contract developed and agreed by Governments, industry, Indigenous organisations and other stakeholders.

The Minister may issue the permit on being satisfied, among other things, that:

  • environmental assessment (if required) was undertaken and the process is completed;
  • submissions from persons and bodies registered under s266A of the EPBC have been taken into account; and
  • there is a benefit-sharing contract between the parties which addresses prior informed consent, mutually agreed terms, and adequate benefit-sharing arrangements, including protection for and valuing of Indigenous knowledge and environmental benefits in the area from which the resource was obtained.

The contract would only have effect if the Minister issues an access permit.

Environmental issues

The scheme takes environmental concerns into account through recommendations which recognise the need for collections of biological resources to be undertaken in accordance with the principles of ecologically sustainable development, including the precautionary principle and, where the impact of access is likely to be 'significant', following environmental assessment.

Issues affecting traditional owners

The scheme takes into account the concerns of Indigenous organisations and communities by recommending that the regulations include:

  • the requirement that the Minister take certain factors into account, when deciding whether to grant or refuse an access permit; and
  • provision that the decision of the owners of biological resources to deny access to their resources is not reviewable.

Industry and research issues

The scheme takes into account the major concerns of industry and research interests by including:

  • proposals for benefit sharing which would allow the parties to negotiate a wide range of benefits;
  • provisions which would ensure industry's interest in environmentally sensitive access to biological resources; and
  • freedom for the parties to negotiate contracts which would meet their own interests and, through clear and agreed terms, promote certainty.

Nationally consistent approach

The Inquiry was the primary consultative tool of Environment Australia's Access Work Program under Biotechnology Australia. As one of the objectives of the Access Work Program is to establish a nationally consistent system the Inquiry sought the views of Commonwealth agencies and State and Territory Governments on the issue.

State and Territory Governments which have considered access issues support the development of a nationally-consistent approach. The report recommends that further consultations be held to achieve this objective.

Disclaimer and Copyright

Biotechnology Australia (a Commonwealth initiative) has financially assisted this Inquiry. The views expressed in this report are those of the author and not necessarily those of Biotechnology Australia.

Information presented in this document may be reproduced in whole or in part for study or training purposes or to provide wider dissemination for public response, subject to inclusion of acknowledgment of the source and provided no commercial usage or sale of the material occurs. Reproduction for purposes other than those given above requires written permission from Environment Australia. Requests for permission should be addressed to:

First Assistant Secretary
Natural Heritage Division
Environment Australia
GPO Box 787
ACT 2601