Tanya Plibersek blames Coalition for $1 billion of environmental damage

State of environment report reveals Australia's species decline

Tanya Plibersek has blamed the former Coalition government for environmental damage that will cost $1 billion a year to contain and repair.

Speaking at the National Press Club in Canberra on Tuesday, Ms Plibersek said the previous government had left critical projects unfinished and money unspent.

“Too many urgent warnings were either ignored or debts were kept secret,” Ms Plibersek said.

The federal environment minister was delivering a speech to mark the release of the 2000-page, five-yearly State of the Environment Report – to which the Labor government will respond officially by the end of the year.

Ms Plibersek said the former government often made “nice pledges” for action on the environment but often did not see them through.

As part of the collapse of the Murray-Darling Basin plan, Ms Plibersek said a $40 million commitment on Indigenous water rights had gone unfilled.

She added that it had fallen well short of achieving policies pledging an increase in recycling across the nation.

“I think most Australians would be really shocked to know just how far we are from meeting these targets and that the former government had no real plan for getting there,” she said.

Ms Plibersek said the document, released every five years, was “confronting” reading but that Australians should know its contents.

Among the losses catalogued in the report’s pages are a decline in mammals on the Australian continent greater than registered anywhere on earth as the number of threatened communities rose by 20 per cent.

  • Learn more about the State of the Environment Report here

Public trust undermined

The former government delayed the release of the report and behaved in a way that undermined public trust in environmental management, Ms Plibersek added.

They gave a private charity almost half a billion dollars without tender or process to guide our response to the crisis in the Great Barrier Reef.

“No one should walk into the Prime Minister’s Office and leave with hundreds of millions of dollars,” Ms Plibersek said.

The Environment Minister used the speech to lay out her agenda and plans to begin repairing damage. She said the government would bring 30 per cent of Australia’s land areas under new protections inside a decade and undertake wholesale reform of the nation’s environmental laws.

“I will be guided by three essential goals: to protect, to restore and to manage Australia’s environment,” she said.

In response to questions from journalists, the minister held the line on an emerging stoush between the government and the Greens over climate target legislation expected to be introduced to Parliament next week.

“We’re going to keep the promise we made to the Australian people; it’s important that we do that, as a government,” she said.

“It would be terrific if we got maximum consensus on the carbon pollution reduction target and the other elements of the legislation that we’re taking to the parliament.

“But we’ve got to keep our promise to the Australian people.”


Greens leader Adam Bandt said that ongoing approval of coal mines cuts against the purpose of climate targets. Photo: AAP

Climate-target stoush

Labor’s approach would install a 43 per cent reduction target via legislation but it is facing criticism from independents who favour a more ambitious goal.

The Greens have also not ruled out making their support for the legislation contingent on Labor banning new coal and gas projects.

“Mining has been a really important part of Australia’s prosperity for decades,” Ms Plibersek said.

“There are some people who would say we shouldn’t have any mining anywhere.

“It’s just not a sustainable or reasonable proposition for a modern economy like Australia’s to say that we are responsible for the carbon pollution that we emit here in Australia.

“Of course, we need to take account of that. Of course, we need to reduce it. We have ambitious targets for reducing it, and we need to be part of a global effort as well. Having ambitious domestic targets allows us to be more activist in the international sphere.”

Ms Plibersek’s portfolio covers environment and water but not explicitly issues relating to emissions reduction which are dealt with under government energy policy.

Should the Greens withdraw their needed support for the government’s plan, the targets can be made by order of the Energy Minister Chris Bowen via regulation.

Sussan Ley, the deputy leader of the Liberal Party and the previous government’s environment spokeswoman, did not respond to a text message asking if she contested Ms Plibersek’s claim that the report’s release had been delayed during her tenure.

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