National watchdog to monitor environmental damage

A federal environment protection agency will be set up under new laws introduced to parliament.

A federal environment protection agency will be set up under new laws introduced to parliament. Photo: AAP

A federal watchdog will soon be able to crack down on damage to Australia’s natural environment.

Laws setting up a national environment protection agency will be introduced to federal parliament on Wednesday, giving the new entity bulked-up powers to safeguard natural habitats.

The federal body will have powers to issue stop-work orders to prevent environmental damage and audit companies.

Under the laws, courts could slap fines of up to $780 million on people for intentional breaches of environmental laws or impose a sentence of seven years in prison.

The agency is set to examine illegal land clearing as one of its first priorities, following audits that found one-in-seven companies could be in breach of offset conditions.

Legislation will also set up the head of Environment Information Australia, an independent position that is required to provide environmental data to the public.

The head will also be required to report on progress Australia is making towards being “nature positive” in a world first.

Nature positive will be classed in the laws as an improvement to the diversity, abundance, resilience and integrity of an ecosystem.

It will be the first time a country has put in legislation a formal benchmark of nature positive and there being reporting measures for that level.

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said the laws would mean greater accountability to protect the environment.

“In short, nature positive means improving our ecosystems, including the species that rely on, and form part of, an ecosystem,” she will say on Wednesday.

“Creating a nature positive Australia means that, across Australia, nature is repairing and regenerating rather than continue to decline.”

Plibersek said the toughening of environmental safeguards would allow for faster approvals and more transparency about projects.


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