Peak body for land conservation cautiously welcomes environmental law reforms but says “We can’t stop here”

Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek has today announced that the Federal Government will introduce reforms to establish an Environmental Protection Agency and an office of Environmental Information Australia, two key Labor election commitments to environmental law reform.

Minister Plibersek also released results of an audit into environmental compliance that investigated whether developers are delivering on their responsibilities to nature.  

Australia’s peak national body for private land conservation, the Australian Land Conservation Alliance, has cautiously welcomed the announcements. ALCA CEO Dr Jody Gunn says these must form part of a broader reform package, urgently needed to help halt and reverse Australia’s accelerating nature crisis.

“ALCA will always welcome much-needed progress on urgent environmental law reform. However, these reforms are just the first of several necessary measures to fix our failing national environment laws,” she said.

The Federal Government’s current focus on nature has been on getting the technical and legislative detail of its law reforms right.

Dr Gunn said that whilst getting this right is critical, meaningful legislative reform will only be effective if it is accompanied by serious investment in Australian nature.

Currently the Federal Government spends less than 0.1% of the national budget on Australia’s biodiversity[1] – an amount that is desperately inadequate to address the urgency and scale of Australia’s nature crisis.

“Adequate resourcing of environmental law has been a constant thorn in the side of its efficacy, and we look forward to further detail being provided in the upcoming Federal Budget,” she said.

The peak body supports reform of Australia’s environmental laws in a way that delivers for Australian nature, and for the Australian community that relies upon it for their social, cultural and economic prosperity.

It strongly supports the creation of an independent statutory Environment Protection Agency (EPA) as part of a broader EPBC Act reform package but notes that a robust and effective EPA for Australian nature is only possible with a strong legislative foundation and reliable, ongoing funding. An EPA is expected to make decisions on Federal environmental matters that are affected by proposed developments.

Ministerial call-in powers related to EPA decision-making have also been the recent subject of much public scrutiny and discussion.

Call-in powers allow a Minister to step in and make decisions related to environmental matters, even if those decisions would otherwise be handled by the EPA.

ALCA has recommended that Ministerial call-in powers should only be utilised in extraordinary circumstances, and in accordance with clear rules in the public interest. The Minister’s reasons for the decision must also be made public.

“Whilst the reforms announced today are an important step forward, we can’t afford to stop here. ALCA looks forward to seeing a timely announcement of the next, broader tranche of reforms in the government’s environmental law reform package,” said Dr Gunn.

–END–

[1] Best estimate based on the methodology used in the 2021 State of Environment report, see Fig. 53, https://soe.dcceew.gov.au/sites/default/files/2022-07/soe2021-biodiversity.pdf 

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