Environment laws need overhaul: Minister

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek says she is absolutely determined to improve the system.

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek says she is absolutely determined to improve the system. Photo: AAP

The federal government will officially respond to a landmark report into Australia’s environmental laws by the end of the year and introduce reforms by 2023.

Statutes and administrative systems need to change to prevent further decline of the environment, says Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek.

Current laws are not meeting the needs of the environment or businesses, she declared ahead of the release of the 2000-page State of the Environment report on Tuesday.

“They are also very slow and cumbersome for proponents of projects. So they’re not meeting the needs of business and they’re not protecting the environment,” she said.

Using a National Press Club address to outline the government’s response to the report after its release, Ms Plibersek said compliance and complications with laws needed to be addressed by the reforms.

“We will consult thoroughly on environmental standards but in the meantime, I want to see an immediate start on improving our environmental data and regional planning,” she said.

“People will have very different ideas about what national environmental standards should look like and as minister I will probably make some calls that some people disagree with.

“But I am absolutely determined to improve the system.”

Ms Plibersek also announced the government will set a target 30 per cent of Australia’s land and marine mass to become protected area, which includes the pursuit of the east Antarctic marine park.

The five-yearly SOE report — a comprehensive assessment of the state of the environment and its management — revealed Australia’s environment is sick and getting sicker as the combined effects of climate change, pollution, land clearing and mining take a dangerous toll.

“Overall, the state and trend of the environment of Australia are poor and deteriorating,” it says.

Former environment minister Susan Ley received the report in December but didn’t release it ahead of the May federal election.

“(The) report was received by the previous government well before Christmas and they kept it secret before the election. And when you read the report, you’ll understand why they kept it secret,” Ms Plibersek said.

“It’s a very grim read.”

Ms Plibersek said the government was consulting the sector on the best ways to reform the system, with Professor Graham Samuel’s review of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to be used as a starting point.

The environment minister says she will be guided by the three goals of “protect, restore and manage”.

“To offer proper protection, we need to set clear environmental standards with explicit targets around what we value as a country and what our laws need to protect,” she said.

“This will require a fundamental reform around national environmental rules and empowering a new environmental protection agency to enforce them.”

But she ruled out increasing the government’s 43 per cent emissions reductions target, saying it was important the crossbench don’t “hold out for perfection”.


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