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Nature positive laws: Pressure mounts on Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek over controversial legislation

Dan Jervis-Bardy
The Nightly
Tanya Plibersek and Jonathon Duniam.
Tanya Plibersek and Jonathon Duniam. Credit: The Nightly

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek is under increasing pressure from all sides over the controversial ‘nature positive’ laws as the opposition warns her plans are on the “brink of collapse”.

The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) and Labor’s grassroots environment action group (LEAN) are urging the Federal Government to deliver on its commitment to overhaul the nation’s troubled environmental protection regime.

The Federal Opposition is also demanding Ms Plibersek end the secrecy and come clean about the future of her signature Nature Positive Plan, which it claimed was now teetering on the “brink of collapse”.

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The Nightly this week revealed the Federal Government was poised to split up its package of environmental protection reforms, pursuing chunks at a time rather than attempting to get one giant piece of legislation through the Federal Parliament.

The widely expected shift — which Ms Plibersek is yet to confirm — follows significant backlash from mining and business groups to the proposed changes and the secretive process used to develop them.

With a little over 12 months until the next Federal election is due, there are now serious questions about what — if any — parts of the sweeping package could be legislated before Australians head to the polls.

One view in industry circles is that the Government will prioritise setting up a new Federal environment protection agency to meet a 2022 election promise, potentially pushing other parts of the package out beyond the next election.

Environment and business groups attended another closed-door departmental briefing on parts of the plan in Canberra this week, the latest chapter in a consultation process shrouded in secrecy.

Shadow environment minister Jonno Duniam said Ms Plibersek needed to be “upfront, open and honest” with the public about her intentions.

“She now needs to do this as a matter of urgency, and to be guided by stakeholders who can start sensibly cleaning up her unmitigated mess,” Senator Duniam said.

Ms Plibersek this week said the Government was working “methodically” on new environment laws that would be good for the environment and business.

“As I’ve said from the very beginning, updating Australia’s environment laws will require co-operation, compromise, and common sense from everyone,” Ms Plibersek said.

The conservation foundation’s national biodiversity policy advisor, Brendan Sydes, said delaying a re-write of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act would be “unacceptable” and result in more habitat destruction.

The Nature Positive Plan was announced in December 2022 as Labor’s response to former ACCC boss Graeme Samuel’s damning review of the Act.

“The idea of breaking up the reform into chunks will not fix the problem,” Mr Sydes said.

“Fixing the problems with the current Act requires a complete overhaul.

“The solution is a comprehensive integrated package of changes.

“The government needs to make good on its promise to deliver the package of reforms in this term of Parliament.

LEAN — who successfully lobbied the Government to water down its contentious offshore gas Bill — is also urging Ms Plibersek to press ahead with reforms this term.

“New environment laws and the creation of an EPA were election commitments, to be delivered this term and that’s what needs to happen,” the group’s co-convenor, Felicity Wade, said.

“Labor members across the country backed the importance of this reform, with over 500 local ALP branches calling for it.

“This needs to get done fully and properly this year.”

Ms Wade said a re-writing of nature laws was “well overdue” and, in a pointed message to industry, emphasised the need for “good-faith” negotiations to achieve better outcomes for business and the environment.

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