Act for birds

The basics are in, but lots to fix for strong Nature Laws

Tuesday, 19 December 2023

  • Estimated reading time 3 minutes

Progress for nature laws reform but we need more if we are going to prevent extinctions.

BirdLife Australia’s senior policy and conservation experts are fresh out of a second session in an ongoing closed-door consultation process reviewing the Albanese Government’s proposals to reform Australia’s national nature laws. Click here to read our summary from the first consultation session in November.

After spending two days reviewing hundreds of pages of detailed technical documents and draft legislation our experts have honed down their review to two key messages:

  1. Public support for strong new nature laws is having a real impact on the progress of these reforms. The Government has moved on some of the detail since the first consultation session and there are signs that we could be edging closer to genuine reforms.
  2. There is much more work to be done to ensure that these reforms will prevent extinctions, protect nature and repair damage to our ecosystems.
Left to right: Conservation Strategy and Assurance Advisor Jenny Lau, Research & Conservation Committee member Brendan Sydes, and Head of Conservation and Science Samantha Vine at the closed-door consultation process reviewing the Albanese Government’s proposals to reform Australia’s national nature laws.

At a glance

Here are BirdLife Australia’s comments on some of the main components of the reform package materials presented.

  1. The establishment of Environment Protection Australia (EPA) and Environment Information Australia (EIA) are welcome initiatives, but there are still shortcomings with the structural independence of the EPA. For example, funding shortfalls could undermine the effective functioning of the new EPA and EIA, as well as impacting on the new conservation planning framework, which would require significant additional funding to be implemented.
  2. We welcome moves towards clarifying “unacceptable impacts” that mean development proposals which would reduce the viability of threatened species, or cause significant damage to habitat in a Critical Protection Area could be outright rejected.
  3. We finally saw some detail on Regional planning, however we are disappointed that the approach has been turned from a proactive conservation planning tool into yet another way for facilitating development. The good news is a Minister must not make a Regional Plan unless satisfied that it would Likely result in net positive outcome for matter in region and we would finally have a mechanism to collect baseline data and address cumulative impacts. However Regional Planning as proposed will use two classes of zones: “Conservation,” where specific classes of action are prohibited and “Development” Zones. We are particularly concerned that unchecked destruction of nature will continue within “Development” Zones.
  4. Under the proposed new conservation planning framework Recovery Strategies will be required for each listed threatened species.  But we are strongly advocating that each of these Recovery Strategies must include the legal instrument – a “Protection Statement” that will describe, among other things, what habitat needs to be protected in order to ensure the survival or recovery of a threatened species in the wild.  The detail in these Recovery Strategies will be critical for the assessment and decision process (point 2) and Regional Planning (point 3).
  5. Offsets remain a concern with the retention of the option for proponents to make a payment into a general fund when an appropriate offset can’t be identified. These will need to be constrained to ensure that they do not contribute to the destruction of critical habitat.
  6. The reform package would allow “accredited” states and territories to make decision on new actions within their jurisdiction. We have concerns that this approach leaves too much flexibility for states/territories to make decisions that would not be consistent with protections in the Federal legislation.

Closed-door consultation will continue through to March next year before these new laws are introduced to Parliament in mid-2024. We will need your support to ensure that the Australian Government enacts the strongest package of new nature laws.

Nature is in crisis

This once in a generation opportunity for strong new laws that will genuinely protect and recover the birds and places we love must not be wasted.

Click here to learn more about the campaign for strong new nature laws and find out how you can get involved.