The federal government’s planned reforms of Australia’s environment laws are a strong start and should be implemented with greater urgency to halt Australia's extinction crisis, said WWF-Australia.
Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek today announced the government’s response
to Graeme Samuel’s 2020 review
of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act, which found the laws were failing to protect Australia’s threatened species.
Minister Plibersek outlined some significant reforms, including a plan to establish strengthened environmental standards and an independent Environment Protection Agency (EPA) to enforce the law.
WWF-Australia’s Chief Conservation Officer, Rachel Lowry said the response to the Samuel review was a strong starting point.
“Today’s response outlines some significant and long overdue reforms to tackle Australia’s extinction crisis, especially in light of the scale of loss and corruption experienced over the past decade,” said Ms Lowry.
“The reform package has the potential to be a game-changer for the protection of wildlife and wild places if the government secures expert input from the environmental sector when landing the next phase of detail.
“Lack of enforcement is the single greatest failing of the EPBC Act, so we’re pleased to see an EPA at the heart of the government’s plan.
“It’s vital that this agency has the resources and independence to audit major projects and ensure every Australian, business and industry is doing the right thing for nature.”
Ms Lowry also welcomed a proposal to establish areas of high environmental value where development will be largely prohibited.
“We’re pleased to see the government drawing a red line around some of our most valuable forests and wetlands,” she said.
“These places are more precious than gold to our endangered plants and animals and should never be cleared. No offsets could ever make up for bulldozing this habitat.”
Despite the positives in the government’s plan, Ms Lowry said there were also some concerning gaps and a lack of urgency.
“The plan has no mention of a climate trigger and fails to properly consider the impact of climate change on nature,” she said.
“The timing of the government’s reform agenda is also concerning.
“On the government’s own timetable, the reform package will be introduced into the parliament before the end of 2023, which means it is unlikely to be implemented until 2024.
“Our wildlife and wild places cannot afford to wait this long for action.
“Australia’s list of threatened species has grown by 8% since 2016 and we’re losing vast stretches of forests and habitat every year.
“The government has set a worthy goal to end extinction. It is now time to deliver on this promise with a reform agenda that recognises that ambition and urgency are key.”