Conservation groups are urging the new government to act immediately on its three big-ticket environmental commitments to reverse what it says was a decade of inaction under the Coalition, as new Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek says “the environment is back under Labor”.
Environment groups, including Labor’s internal conservation group, praised the government for taking a bold platform of major environmental law reforms to the May election. They said Plibersek must move quickly to ensure new laws to halt native species losses are delivered within the first term.
The reforms include the creation of an Environmental Protection Agency, a National Water Commission, and an overhaul of federal environmental protection laws by issuing a full response to the Samuel Review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
“Those three reforms that Labor committed to are huge,” said Labor Environment Action Network co-convener Felicity Wade.
After four years of advocacy from LEAN, Labor’s then-environment spokeswoman Terri Butler announced just one day before the election, after 5.5 million people had cast pre-poll votes, that Labor would create a national Environment Protection Authority. Butler lost her seat to the Greens the next day.
Wade said the EPA was listed on Labor’s national policy platform in 2018 after a “massive grassroots campaign within the party” to halt Australia’s extinction crisis.
She expects the party to “make real progress this term” on the law reforms, which she said are fundamental for turning around Australia’s environmental decline.
Plibersek said one of the “big messages” from the federal election was that Australians want to see more action on the environment and climate change.
“I’ve only just got my feet under the desk, but I’ll say this: the environment is back under Labor – we are going to do some great things.
“When the prime minister offered me this portfolio, he said the environment and water will be top priorities for our government – what a refreshing change after a decade of the Liberal party not giving a stuff about either,” she said.
Australian Conservation Foundation chief executive Kelly O’Shannessy said Labor has committed to the “biggest reform of environmental law for a few decades”, which she expects will take a full three-year term to complete.
“We were pleased to see someone like Tanya Plibersek be put in [the environment portfolio] because it shows [Labor] understand the size of the reform that they need to do,” O’Shannessy said after suggestions Plibersek was demoted when moved from the education portfolio.
Labor pledged to overhaul the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act after a statutory review found major reform was needed to halt the “continued decline of our iconic places and the extinction of our most threatened plants, animals and ecosystems”. Labor also pledged to revitalise the ambitious $13 billion Murray-Darling Basin Plan, and committed $26 million to create a National Water Commission, but Prime Minister Anthony Albanese hasn’t said if a controversial program of buying water titles from farmers will be restarted.
As environment minister, Plibersek will have to balance competing demands from inside the party and the government risks disappointing its grassroots members when it is called to decide on the future of big coal and gas projects such as Woodside’s Scarborough gas project off the Western Australian coast.
The International Energy Agency has found there is no room for the emissions created by any new fossil fuel developments if the world is going to reach net zero greenhouse emissions by 2050 and green groups and the Greens party are demanding the federal government ban new coal or gas projects.
But Albanese has pledged Labor will approve fossil fuel projects if the economic and environmental assessments stack up, a position backed by powerful unions the CFMMEU and Australian Workers’ Union.
When companies seek approval for major fossil fuel projects, it could require Plibersek to be the final arbiter deciding their fate.
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( Information from smh.com.au was used in this report. To Read More, click here )