It’s time to get our new environment laws right

There are some things to celebrate in the reforms proposed by Minister Plibersek today.

The government has committed to:

  • introducing National Environmental Standards, the ‘cornerstone’ of reforms suggested by Graeme Samuel AC’s review of the EPBC Act
  • an independent Environment Protection Agency (EPA) that will be the decision maker for environmental approvals and be responsible for compliance and enforcement
  • expanding the water trigger, requiring environmental assessment of all unconventional gas projects.

    We also celebrate that the community’s unrelenting calls for better laws for environmental protection have brought us to this juncture, where we have a once –in-a-lifetime opportunity to get these laws right.

National environmental standards

We welcome the government’s commitment to legally enforceable, binding, National Environmental Standards, to set clear outcomes for nature that bind decision makers. But to be truly effective and protect nature, the full suite of Standards must be developed by independent experts as an urgent priority, so their impact can be fully assessed. And they must apply to all industries, including forestry, from their introduction.

Incorporate First Nations Knowledge

Our new nature laws must truly value and incorporate the rights, knowledge and culture of First Nations people. We welcome the government’s proposal to introduce new stand-alone federal cultural heritage legislation but believe the whole framework of our national environmental laws must recognise that, as the ongoing custodians of this land since time immemorial, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander traditional knowledge is integral to protecting and caring for the environment.

Independent EPA and proper resourcing

National Environmental Standards need to be backed by a genuinely independent Federal Environment Protection Agency (EPA) and significant funding, including for recovering threatened species. Our new laws will only work if they are properly resourced.

Climate assessment and scope 3 emissions

New laws must curb climate damage. Our climate is breaking down, and this is a key driver of extinction in Australia and around the world. Climate impacts must be fully and explicitly integrated into environmental decision making. All projects seeking approval must also disclose their Scope 3 emissions for assessment.

Community enforcement

Communities must have the right to participate in and challenge government decisions, through mechanisms like merits review and third-party independent enforcement of our laws. Environmental decision making must be transparent and accountable, and this includes ensuring communities have a legal voice to stand up for our environment.

Conservation planning and no creative accounting

To achieve zero new extinctions, the new federal laws need a strong conservation planning framework and must ensure offsets cannot be used as payments for destruction. To properly protect critical habitat, a land clearing trigger should be introduced to require the environmental assessment of land clearing proposals.