It’s crunch time for Australian nature. The government is working on new national nature protection laws that must stop the alarming destruction of our forests, wetlands and wildlife, but the plans ACF has had behind-the-scenes access to don’t go far enough.

ACF has participated in four stakeholder consultations on drafts of the new laws. It’s critical that the government hears loud and clear that the community wants urgent progress on the promised overhaul of our national environmental law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

What we’ve seen so far shows that the new laws have the potential to actually protect nature in a way that current laws fail to do, but more is needed. In too many cases the promise of the new laws is undermined by problems that are yet to be fixed.

The main problems are outlined below. These are fixable if the government has the political will and ambition to do so.

Problem 1: Stronger protections for nature

The current draft laws fail to stop habitat destruction. Up-front protections for nature – including ‘red lines’ to protect threatened species habitat and other nationally important environmental matters – don’t go far enough and need to be strengthened.

Without stronger up-front protections the new laws will not stop nature destruction or deliver the government’s welcome commitment to preventing new extinctions. We need:

  • Clear up-front protections that do not depend on other decisions in the future for the protection to be delivered.
  • Stronger and more specific National Environmental Standards setting out the environmental protection outcomes required under the new laws.
  • Details of how the government is going to deliver its commitment to apply the new laws and Standards to the logging of native forests.

Problem 2: A strong and independent regulator

Current laws are rarely enforced, and decision-making lacks independence, undermining environmental protection.

Lack of enforcement and poor decisions hasten environmental decline, and the Australian community has lost trust and confidence in our national environmental laws to protect the places and wildlife we love.

A new independent national environmental regulator, Environment Protection Australia (EPA), is an important part of the solution. But the government’s welcome commitment to a new EPA is undermined by the ability of the Environment Minister to step in and take over decisions from the EPA at any time for any reason, and to apply lower standards of environmental protection.

Changes needed to ensure a strong and independent EPA include:

  • The Minister must only be able to step in and take over decision making on clearly specified public interest grounds.
  • Stronger safeguards are needed against a Minister stepping in and taking over decisions from the EPA and lowering standards of environmental protection.

Problem 3: Preventing climate harm

Our current laws failing to explicitly deal with climate change, and as a result new climate-wrecking projects continue to be approved even though they are damaging to protected environmental matters, like our precious Great Barrier Reef.

The government has proposed some minimal steps in the direction of building climate considerations into all decisions under the new laws, but much more is required.

  • Climate needs to be a central consideration in all decisions under the new laws.
  • All projects put forward for assessment under the new laws must disclose their total emissions, including downstream emissions from burning fossil fuels.
  • Decision makers under the new laws should be required to say no to new projects that harm the climate and damage nature

Urgent progress needed

For more than two decades, our national nature laws have been too weak to prevent nature destruction.

The damning report of the Independant Review of the EPBC Act was delivered over three years ago, but the wholesale reforms recommended are yet to be delivered. The Albanese government has committed to far-reaching reforms, but these are well behind schedule and new, stronger national nature protection laws hang in the balance.

Without addressing the key issues above, Australia’s new nature laws will continue to allow thousands of hectares of forests, wetlands and bushlands to be bulldozed, and more animals and plants pushed to extinction.

If the government is committed to ending extinctions and protecting our unique landscapes, we urgently need new laws that provide genuine protection for our threatened plants, animals and ecosystems.

What can you do right now?

Nature will only get the protections it needs if people speak up to demand them. Send your thoughts directly to Anthony Albanese's office. We've developed some messaging related to climate harm and nature laws, but you can comment on any element of nature laws that matter to you.

Brendan Sydes

National Biodiversity Policy Adviser