Media release

Commitment to overhaul of Australia's environment laws

Commitment to overhaul of Australia's environment laws | Thursday, 8 December 2022

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BirdLife Australia welcomes the Federal Government’s decision to undertake a major reform of Australia’s environmental legislation, as announced by Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek today.  

We look forward to working with the Government, and other stakeholders, to ensure that the legislative package introduced to Parliament next year provides a solid and lasting foundation for stopping extinctions and protecting critical habitat. 

The Federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, the keystone of Australia’s nature laws, has failed to address the alarming deterioration and destruction of Australia’s natural environment, recently documented in the 2021 State of Environment Report.   

We welcome the Government’s recognition of the seriousness of Australia’s environmental crisis, and are encouraged by this first important step in recasting the legal and administrative regime to address the situation. 

Welcome features of the response have the potential to do this include: 

  • Establishing a national Environment Protection Agency which will be the environmental decision-maker and responsible for ensuring compliance with the law 
  • Developing outcome-based legally enforceable national environmental standards that apply at all levels and in all sectors 
  • Establishing an accessible central holding of environmental data, and more regular reporting of the state of Australia’s environment 
  • Reforming conservation planning for threatened species and communities to strengthen protection and deliver more effective implementation 
  • Recognition that the current exemption from national environmental laws for logging Regional Forest Agreements needs to be fixed, and that logging native forests should be subject to the new national environmental standards.  

BirdLife Australia will work with the Federal Government in the preparation of its draft legislation to ensure that these key initiatives are designed to deliver for Australia’s environment and the birds that live in it. 

We note that some aspects of the Government’s response would benefit from further consideration and development to help achieve this objective, and we will continue to engage to seek to ensure that eventual legislation best serves Australia’s environment and communities. These areas include having enforceable recovery plans; clear definition and transparency around ministerial call-in powers for environmental approvals and the national interest exemption; structuring the governance of the proposed EPA in a way that ensures its full independence and effectiveness; accelerating the application of national environmental standards to the management of native forests; and designing the proposed offsets mechanism and Nature Repair Market in a way that ensures that both deliver substantive positive gains for the environment. 

Beyond this, system design is only part of the equation.  Funding for environmental protection and recovery needs to be significantly increased if the Government is to achieve its objective of stopping extinctions, and BirdLife Australia calls on the Government to significantly increase funding for conservation programs in next year’s budget. 

BirdLife Australia is looking forward to working closely with the Federal Government in the coming year to ensure that this critical rebuilding of Australia’s environmental law embodies the ambition and commitment needed to address Australia’s extinction crisis. 

BirdLife Australia President Martine Maron responds to Plibersek’s announcement.