The impacts of our failing national environment laws are being felt in every corner of Australia.

Previously we looked at case studies in NSW, NT, ACT and SA where wildlife has had to pay the price for our ineffective laws.

Below, we highlight two more devastating examples of our broken environment laws in Victoria and Western Australia.

Right now in the halls of Parliament, there is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for reform of our national environment protection framework and a chance for Australia to prove that we can learn from our mistakes.

Learn more by reading below and check back in as we explore the places we love across the country and the urgent need for reform to protect them.

Victoria - Clearing of Threatened Native Grassland

We don’t often think of grasslands as bustling and diverse ecosystems, but in classic Victorian-fashion they are an undercover hub of action.

Once widespread across the region, approximately 80% of Victoria’s native grasslands have been destroyed.

Several grassland ecosystems have been listed as threatened ecological communities under national environmental law.

When habitat disappears, so do the animals and plants that call it home, so it’s no surprise that many of Victoria’s grassland species are facing extinction, such as the critically endangered Plains-wanderer and vulnerable Red swainson-pea.


Native grassland is a critical habitat for the critically endangered Plains-wanderer.

The largest areas of remaining native grassland in Victoria occur on agricultural private land, where they bear the burden of degradation from cultivation, and pest plants and animals. Our national environment laws are supposed to protect all ecological communities and species that are deemed nationally significant - regardless of whether they occur on private, or public land. However, destruction of Victoria’s threatened native grasslands still occurs without assessment under the EPBC Act, Australia's national nature laws.

In 2023, researchers studying the Plains-wanderer identified significant destruction of native grasslands in Northern Victoria. The site, which previously had a high diversity of grasses and forbs, had been sprayed with herbicide and ploughed. These actions destroyed the rich diversity of the grassland and likely directly killed wildlife - but despite this, none of the land management at the site had been referred for assessment under our national environment laws.

The researchers that identified the activity immediately reported it to their local government body, as well the state government authority and federal environment department. Despite this, the ploughing continued for 3 months and when the matter was referred to ACF, researchers reported that, “the former species-rich native grassland, home to threatened plants and animals, is now a barren field, devoid of life”.

It is unknown whether any of the relevant Government bodies took action following the researchers reports, or whether the time it took to triage and respond to the report was too slow to save the ecosystem, however it is clear that the critical window available to stop the destruction was missed - a disappointing but all too common example of our national environmental laws failing to protect threatened ecosystems.

Click here to learn more about the Plains-wanderer. 

With thanks to Daniel Nugent.

Western Australia - Fossil Fuel Projects

According to Dr Ian Fry, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change, human-induced climate change is the largest, most pervasive threat to the natural environment and societies that the world has ever experienced.

Considering that the first references to climate change in the Australian Parliamentary Library pre-date our national nature laws by some 20+ years, one would think that climate change, or at least greenhouse gas emissions, were explicitly regulated under the Act. Well, you would be wrong!

The words ‘climate change’, ‘global warming’, ‘fossil fuels’, or ‘greenhouse gasses’ do not appear anywhere in our national nature laws.

Since the Act came into force, 740 fossil fuel projects have been approved. Our national nature laws do not explicitly require the Environment Minister to consider harmful emissions or the climate warming potential of any individual project, or their cumulative impacts when assessing proposals. There is also currently no other Commonwealth policy mechanism which ensures that the climate impacts of new or expanded projects (such as new coal mines) are clearly considered and addressed before those projects are built and begin operating.

Of the 740 fossil fuel projects approved, 135 are located in Western Australia and many, many more are located in biodiverse marine areas off the state’s coast. Western Australia hosts some of the country's largest fossil fuel projects, and continues to propose more, such as Woodside’s mammoth Burrup Gas Precinct-which includes the proposed Scarborough and Browse gas projects.

The emissions from Western Australia’s fossil fuel projects will undoubtedly have enormous indirect effects on Australia’s amazing wildlife by exacerbating climate-fuelled storms, droughts, floods, heat waves and fires. But every fossil fuel project also carries serious and direct threats to the local environment.

For example, in the likely event of a well blow-out, spill, or vessel rupture at the Browse gas field, as many as 39 threatened species would be impacted, including the:

  • Pygmy blue whale
  • Blue whale
  • Fin whale
  • Sei whale
  • Short-nosed sea snake
  • Eastern Curlew
  • Southern giant petrel
  • Night parrot

Blue whale

Blue whales can be impacted by issues arising at gas fields.

Furthermore, the project plans to drill 54 wells in and around the Scott Reef, which will destroy habitat and impact many amazing marine animals.

In particular, whales will suffer from seismic surveys, operational noise, pollutants, and vessel strikes which will make their home unsafe.

Right now, whales and other marine animals are suffering from the seismic blasting Woodside is doing for their climate-wrecking Burrup Hub gas project. Seismic blasting is the loudest sound ever created by humans and can deafen whales, leaving them at risk of death.

In their current form, our national nature laws provide too many loopholes for the Government to avoid taking action against these projects.

By rewriting strong national nature laws we can close these gaps to stop the proposed Browse gas project and many others from continuing the destruction.

There is no place for the continued expansion of the fossil fuel industry in Australia’s future, and the fact that our national nature laws fail to recognise climate change as a serious environmental threat is a call-to-arms for environmentalists everywhere to take a stand.

New laws must be up to preventing climate harm by rejecting proposals that contribute to climate change, increasing protections for ecosystems that absorb carbon, and ensuring that the laws are capable of responding to climate change impacts.

Peta Bulling

Nature Campaigner