NATURE POSITIVE: Tanya Plibersek reveals new green laws on backburner after revelations by The Nightly

Dan Jervis-Bardy
The Nightly
3 Min Read
Tanya Plibersek and how The Nightly covered the story.
Tanya Plibersek and how The Nightly covered the story. Credit: The Nightly

Controversial new “Nature Positive” green laws have been put on the backburner by the Albanese Government after major criticism that ranged the political spectrum from miners to environmentalists.

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek on Tuesday said she could not guarantee the main pillars of the plan — including new national environmental standards — would be introduced before the next election after confirming the package would be broken up.

The Nightly was the first to reveal the move was on the cards in a series of exclusive reports on the opposition to the plan.

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This included revelations about plans to introduce a bizarre 40km/h speed limit across the Pilbara and concerns about the secretive consultation process.

Ms Plibersek on Tuesday announced Labor would still push ahead with a new Federal environmental protection agency, with legislation to be introduced within weeks.

Penalties for serious “intentional” breaches of federal environmental laws will be beefed-up with offenders to face fines of up to $780 million and threats of seven-year jail sentences.

Almost $100m will be also allocated to help speed up decisions on project approvals.

But Labor will face an uphill challenge to get the legislation through Parliament after the Coalition and the Greens lined up to attack Ms Plibersek’s announcement.

WA Premier Roger Cook — who raised concerns about the plan with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese directly — said splitting the sprawling nature positive reforms was a “sensible approach” that demonstrated the Commonwealth was listening.

The main aim of Labor’s plan was to achieve “net positive” outcomes for nature, including by requiring proponents to leave the environment in a better state than it was found.

The Government was planning to introduce a series of national environmental standards to underpin the new regime.

But there is now no time frame for the introduction of those standards, with only a commitment to continue consultation with environment groups, industry and States and Territories.

Asked if the remaining parts of the plan would be introduced before the next election, due next May, Ms Plibersek said: “they’ll be introduced when they’re ready”.

“We want to make sure we get this right,” she said.

“What we’re aiming for is a legislative package that has the mainstream environment movement and the mainstream business community saying, ‘this is an improvement on what we’ve got’.”

Crucially, the Government has committed to releasing an exposure draft of the final stage before it is introduced to the Federal Parliament.

The concerns about a lack of an exposure draft were a main theme throughout the articles by The Nightly.

Association of Mining and Exploration Companies chief executive Warren Pearce was pleased the reforms would be put through the consultation process “they deserve”.

“This will enable industry to properly engage in the process and understand the potential benefits or consequences of these changes,” he said.

The Federal EPA — to be known as Environment Protection Australia— will decide on most applications but the minister will retain the power to “call in” projects for assessment.

The new watchdog will just be enforcing the existing Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act until the new national standards are developed.

The watchdog will initially be housed inside the federal environment department before it becomes an independent body from July 1 next year.

The new EPA would have the power to issue “stop-work” orders on projects, and audit businesses to ensure they are compliant with approval conditions.

Minerals Council of Australia chief executive Tania Constable said the plan to retain ministerial oversight of decision-making was a “positive signal”.

“The MCA has long held the position that democratically elected government ministers are best placed to make decisions in the interests of the Australian people and economy,” she said.

Green groups welcomed the announcement of a federal EPA but were disappointed the Federal Government wasn’t delivering the promised reforms in full.

Speaking in Perth at the same time Ms Plibersek was making her announcement, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said Labor’s environmental agenda was “anti-WA”.

“It’s an anti-WA Bill because it will act against the interest of WA. It is anti-mining, anti-development,” Mr Dutton said.

The future of promised Federal Aboriginal cultural heritage reforms is unclear.


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