Press Release - December 8, 2022

Government’s environmental law reform must deliver binding protections or risks missing critical window

December 8, 2022

Environmental lawyers say national environmental law reform must deliver stronger binding protections for nature and explicitly require thorough climate impact assessment, in the face of escalating climate and extinction crises.

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek today delivered the new government’s response to Graeme Samuel’s review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conversation Act.

Environmental Justice Australia senior lawyer Ellen Maybery said.

“Minister Tanya Plibersek today outlined some significant and long overdue reforms. It’s a start, but there’s a long way to go.

“As an environmental lawyer, I have concerns about serious gaps and the real risk of further weakening Australia’s already inadequate environmental protection laws.

“Australia is one of seven countries responsible for more than half the globe’s biodiversity destruction and yet, logging, land-clearing and rampant destruction continues in critically important habitat and ecosystems. We know the current legal framework is profoundly failing and needs fundamental reform.

“Legally enforceable National Environmental Standards must be the foundation of our new laws. We welcome the government’s commitment that these standards will be legally binding, set clear outcomes for nature, and apply across all industries – including forestry. But we cannot meaningfully assess whether or not they will work if we do not know the detail, or how they will protect the environment.

“The standards must set limitations on activities like logging and constructing new mines when they would harm our environment. Standards must be developed by independent experts as an urgent priority now, not later, so their impact can be fully assessed.”

“A new framework of laws will only work if they are properly resourced. There’s no way we can reach zero extinctions without significantly increasing funding. That includes sufficient funding for a national, independent EPA and Data Division.

“Climate impacts must be fully integrated into environmental decision making under the new laws. Disclosure of Scope 3 emissions must be required for projects needing approval.

“It’s also vital that the right to participate and challenge decision making is embedded in these laws, through mechanisms like merits review and third-party independent enforcement. Environmental decision making must be transparent and accountable, that includes empowering communities with the right to a legal voice to stand up for our environment.

“To achieve the government’s goal of zero new extinctions, these laws need a strong conservation planning framework and must ensure offsets cannot be used as payments for destruction.

“If a nationally important ecosystem or species is vulnerable or endangered, the law is meant to guide its recovery. We need bold, decisive action now –a new framework of national laws that actually protect our climate, communities and the places and wildlife we love.”

Media contact: Kathryn Lewis, [email protected], 03 8341 3110