Protect, restore, manage: Plibersek unveils new improved policy mantra for environment

The Albanese Government has vowed to fix laws that it says are failing to protect the environment while hampering businesses through “slow and cumbersome” processes.

Jul 19, 2022, updated Jul 19, 2022
Minister for the Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek at the National Press Club. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

Minister for the Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek at the National Press Club. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

The promise will spearhead its official response to a landmark report into Australia’s environmental laws which painted a shocking picture of the decline in ecosystems and the widespread loss of animal species in recent years.

New Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said she would introduce by 2023 reforms needed to arrest further decline, adding people would be confronted to learn how poorly the environment.

“Without structural change we’ll be resigning ourselves to another decade of failure without the tools we need to arrest our decline,” she said.

Current laws were not meeting the needs of the environment or businesses, she declared, following Tuesday’s release of  2000-page State of the Environment report that was kept secret by the former Morrison government.

“They are also very slow and cumbersome for proponents of projects. So they’re not meeting the needs of business and they’re not protecting the environment,” she said.

The SOL report found Australia’s environment was sick and getting sicker.

At least 19 ecosystems are showing signs of collapse or near collapse.

“Overall, the state and trend of the environment of Australia are poor and deteriorating,” it says.

It details “abrupt” changes in ecological systems over the past five years with global warming adding a devastating new layer to an accumulation of threats.

The number of new species listed as threatened, or up-listed to a higher category, had increased eight per cent since 2016 and would jump again due to the Black Summer bushfires, it warned.

Despite this, monitoring of threatened species and communities is “mostly inadequate” with 70 per cent of the latter not monitored at all.

Using a National Press Club address to outline the government’s response to the report, Plibersek said compliance and complications with laws needed to be addressed by the reforms.

“We will consult thoroughly on environmental standards, but in the meantime I want to see an immediate start on improving our environmental data and regional planning,” she said.

“People will have very different ideas about what national environmental standards should look like and as minister I will probably make some calls that some people disagree with.

“But I am absolutely determined to improve the system.”

Plibersek also announced the government will set a target of having 30 per cent of Australia’s land and marine mass as a protected area, which includes the pursuit of the east Antarctic marine park.

The oceans target has already been surpassed, but Plibersek said finding the final three to four per cent of the national estate would be a challenge.

“It’s quite a lot when you talk about all of Australian land mass and the low hanging fruit has already been done,” she said.

The Albanese government will also double the number of Indigenous Rangers to 3800 by the end of the decade and expand Indigenous protected areas.

The five-yearly State of the Environment report – a comprehensive assessment of the state of the environment and its management – revealed Australia’s environment is sick and getting sicker as the combined effects of climate change, pollution, land clearing and mining take a toll.

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“Overall, the state and trend of the environment of Australia are poor and deteriorating,” it says.

Former environment minister Sussan Ley received the report in December but didn’t release it ahead of the May federal election.

“(The) report was received by the previous government well before Christmas and they kept it secret before the election. And when you read the report, you’ll understand why they kept it secret,” Plibersek said.

“It’s a very grim read.”

She described the report as “confronting” but said “Australians deserve the truth”.

Plibersek said the government was consulting the sector on the best ways to reform the system, with Professor Graham Samuel’s review of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to be used as a starting point.

The environment minister says she will be guided by the three goals of “protect, restore and manage”.

“To offer proper protection, we need to set clear environmental standards with explicit targets around what we value as a country and what our laws need to protect,” Ms Plibersek said.

“This will require a fundamental reform around national environmental rules and empowering a new environmental protection agency to enforce them.”

But she ruled out increasing the government’s 43 per cent emissions reductions target, saying it was important the crossbench don’t “hold out for perfection”.

Opposition environment spokesman Jonathon Duniam rejected Ms Plibersek’s criticism of the former Morrison government.

“Tanya Plibersek needs to get on with her job as federal environment minister, rather than engage in partisan finger-pointing and game-playing,” he said.


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