The Albanese government’s Nature Positive Plan was announced in 2022 to address the desperate need for updated nature laws in Australia. These laws were meant to be introduced into Parliament by the end of 2023 – that didn't happen.

In April this year – almost a year-and-a-half later – Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek announced she was planning to proceed with what she called ‘stage 2’ of the government’s nature law reforms. Rather than the full package promised, stage 2, as proposed by the government, will include only a couple of the reforms needed – mainly an independent Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) to enforce national environmental laws.

It seems the long-promised reforms to our nature laws are being split into pieces. The government has said they remain committed to delivering the new nature protection laws they promised, but with no timelines provided on finally delivering full nature law reforms, these delays spell bad news for the thousands of threatened plants and animals caught up in Australia’s extinction crisis.

Every day strong nature protections are delayed makes Australia's extinction crisis worse.

Let’s have a look at what we can expect.

What should we expect in 'stage 2'?

The government plans to introduce legislation to create a new national regulator, Environment Protection Australia, and a new body called Environment Information Australia to improve Australia's environmental data and reporting. The package also includes some improvements to enforcement and compliance powers under the current laws, the EPBC Act. Weak compliance and enforcement of the current law has resulted in ongoing habitat destruction so this is a welcome move.

Establishment of Environment Protection Australia (EPA)

The EPA will initially sit within the Department of Climate Change, Environment, Energy and Water (DCCEEW) and then ultimately take the form of an separate authority headed by a CEO. 

It will handle responsibilities related to the EPBC Act, including assessment and approvals and compliance and enforcement functions, which will be delegated by the environment minister.

The EPA will not be governed by an independent board, instead the CEO will appoint an advisory group and seek their advice on selected matters. 

We have advocated for an EPA for many years and support the need for a strong, independent and well-resourced regulator.  Independence is critical to move beyond the current system, which has allowed mining companies and big businesses to influence decision making, undermining environmental protection.

Establishment of Environment Information Australia (EIA)

The EIA will be a new body within the DCCEEW responsible for providing environmental data and information to the government, EPA and public.

The EIA legislation will also define ‘nature positive’ and give EIA the task of establishing a baseline for evaluating Australia’s progress in reaching the ‘nature positive’ targets.

‘Nature positive’ is not just a slogan – it has a very specific meaning. “Nature positive” as defined in the new laws must be aligned with the internationally accepted definition: halt and reverse nature loss measured from a baseline of 2020, through increasing the health, abundance, diversity and resilience of species, populations and ecosystems so that by 2030 nature is visibly and measurably on the path of recovery.

A few improvements to the EPBC Act

  • Significantly increased civil penalties for those who do not meet their requirements under our current nature laws.
  • New Environment Protection Orders – these will be used to stop breaches of our current nature laws and means stricter conditions on project approvals in the first place.

So, what happens now?

The government will introduce their proposed legislation into Parliament in the next few weeks, and then the process of Parliamentary scrutiny and debate will be underway. We will be asking members of Parliament to scrutinise the governments proposed reforms carefully and, where necessary, to push for improvements. It will be critical to ensure the EPA is strong and independent.

These stage 2 reforms are important, but it’s clear these changes alone will not deliver the much-needed improvements needed for environmental protection – this requires a comprehensive overhaul of Australia’s nature protection laws. 

As an immediate next step, the government should consider other reforms to the EPBC Act, as part of ‘stage 2’, to improve nature protections and commit to a clear plan for the development and delivery of the urgent overhaul to our national environmental laws.

Further delays to nature law reform risk more extinction. A total of 144 animals, plants and ecological communities were added to the threatened species list in 2023 – that’s nearly three species a week – and hundreds of thousands of hectares of precious habitat was destroyed.


Brendan Sydes

National Biodiversity Policy Adviser