The Australian Conservation Foundation has welcomed Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek’s intention to overhaul the country’s broken environment laws by introducing national environmental standards and an Environmental Protection Agency with enforcement powers.

CEO Kelly O’Shanassy said while there was a lot of detail still to come, the national environment group was encouraged by Minister Plibersek’s response to Professor Graeme Samuel’s landmark review of the Environment Protection & Biodiversity Conservation Act.

“Strong national nature protection laws that halt the destruction of wildlife habitat and ecosystems are critical if Australia is to meet its worthy goal of no new extinctions,” she said.

“We are encouraged that Minister Plibersek intends for the new national EPA to have decision-making powers to stop political influence affecting nature protection.

“We support environmental standards applying to all industries – including native forest logging, which has an exemption under the present law.

“The logging industry’s outrageous exemption has pushed numerous Australian species – including the swift parrot and Leadbeater’s possum – to the edge of extinction.

“As Australia experiences climate-fuelled floods and fires, it is deeply disappointing the Minister has made no reference to adding a climate trigger to the law, allowing the climate impacts of coal and gas projects to continue to be ignored.

“The full suite of national environmental standards must be developed as a priority by independent experts to deliver clear and strong protection for wildlife and ecosystems.

“ACF calls on the government to make sure these reforms are well resourced, the national EPA has strong governance arrangements that guarantee its independence, and there is provision for merits reviews to maximise accountability.

“A great deal more detail needs to be fleshed out to make sure these reforms halt the alarming ongoing destruction of Australia’s bushlands, forests, wetlands and coastlines.

“The test of success for these reforms will be whether they end Australia’s extinction crisis by protecting our unique wildlife, plants and ecosystems from destruction through land clearing, logging and climate change, and result in a net gain in natural habitat this decade.”

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