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NATURE POSITIVE: Tanya Plibersek set to significantly water down ambition for green laws by splitting bill

Adrian Rauso
The Nightly
3 Min Read
Tanya Plibersek is said to be open to compromise on the controversial Nature Positive plan.
Tanya Plibersek is said to be open to compromise on the controversial Nature Positive plan. Credit: The Nightly

The Albanese Government’s radical environmental reforms are falling apart at the seams, according to insiders, but Labor is still set to push ahead with establishing a new federal environmental watchdog — Environment Protection Australia — to appease the Greens.

Government sources have told The Nightly Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek is now willing to comprise and put key aspects of the so-called “nature positive plan” on the backburner.

Last month, industry and business groups emerged from a closed-door briefing session in Canberra with a clear belief Labor was prepared to slow progress on its controversial plans — which at one stage included a proposal for 40km speed limits across the highways of WA’s sparsely populated Pilbara region — and instead pursue pieces at a time.

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The Nightly understands Ms Plibersek now intends to split reforms to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, packaging the establishment of a Federal EPA into a separate bill with a focus on pushing that through Parliament first.

In an interview with ABC’s Radio National on Wednesday Ms Plibersek said the government had already passed the first tranche of changes to the EPBC Act, via changes to laws around water resources at coal mining and coal seam gas projects, and did not rule splitting the reforms again.

In response to queries about splitting the reforms a spokeswoman from Ms Plibersek’s office said the Minister was “working methodically on sensible updates to national environment law”.

“Consistent with what we’ve already announced under the nature positive plan — so the system works better for both business and nature,” she said.

Government sources say the desire to get a Federal EPA over the line is to quell the threat of a Greens uprising.

There are said to be fears internally within Labor that the Greens could successfully target more inner-city seats if the Albanese Government is seen to not be doing enough on the environment.

This would be in a similar vein to the destruction the Teal independents caused to the Morrison Government at the 2022 election.

The clock is ticking for Labor to push any reforms through given half-Senate elections are scheduled for next May and then the all-important House of Representatives election in September.

In November, James Tregurtha — head of the Taskforce for Environmental Legislative Reform and the establishment of Environmental Protection Australia — said the EPA will “take (the) politics out of decision-making and act as a tough cop on the beat”.

But some mining industry sources have expressed concerns to The Nightly the EPA could be little more than a “paper tiger” adding pressure to an approvals system for our nation’s most economically vital projects that is already creaking under the pressure of bureaucracy.

Approximately $121m is budgeted over four years from this financial year to establish the EPA.

Separately, Mr Tregurtha’s task force will control $34m across the two years starting this financial year.

An additional $51.5m across the same four-year timeframe is slated to set up Environment Information Australia, another government body which will exist “to provide an authoritative source of high-quality environmental information”.

On top of that $7.7m is put aside for the Nature Repair market, which will be a “world-first” biodiversity market.

At the tail end of last month environment and business groups attended a closed-door departmental briefing on parts of the nature positive plan in Canberra, the latest chapter in a consultation process shrouded in secrecy.

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

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