Plibersek’s new environment laws friendless

Article by Tom McIlroy, courtesy of The Australian Financial Review

Tanya Plibersek’s bill to create a new environmental watchdog has fallen flat with business, conservationists and the Greens, and looks set to face opposition from key crossbenchers in the Senate.

Legislation introduced to parliament on Wednesday would create a stand-alone Environment Protection Agency, with approval and enforcement powers, including the ability to issue fines of as much as $780 million.

But the so-called Nature Positive Plan has been separated from Labor’s promised overhaul of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC), angering campaigners.

Last month The Australian Financial Review revealed WA Labor Premier Roger Cook had lobbied Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Ms Plibersek against imposing another layer of “green tape” on the cash cows of the economy, urging them to break the plan into stages.

Business Council of Australia boss Bran Black objected to the new body’s ability to enact delegated powers from the environment minister, saying it risked reducing accountability.

“Many of the issues raised by business during the consultation process have not been taken up and that concerns us,” Mr Black said in a statement.

“We need to ensure we remain competitive and attract investment because jobs and our economic growth rely on it.”

Senate independent crossbencher David Pocock, whose vote could be needed to pass the legislation due to opposition from the Liberals and Nationals, said the overhaul of wider environmental laws was needed.

“Without first fixing our broken environmental laws, the new EPA will just be bureaucracy for bureaucracy’s sake with no added protection for nature,” he said.

Climate Council policy and advocacy boss Jennifer Rayner dubbed the bill “a waste of time”.

“An effective national environment law must protect nature from climate change and stop the rampant destruction of habitat. The urgent and essential reforms that can deliver this are nowhere to be seen.”

Wilderness Society campaigner Victoria Jack said a minimum standard for the new EPA must be effective consultation on approval proposals.

“The public must be able to have a fair say about environmental decisions that will affect them.”

Opposition spokesman Jonathon Duniam accused Labor of breaking its promise to introduce laws to fix the EPBC Act by the end of 2023.

“This new bureaucracy will wrap businesses in more green tape, drive investment offshore and jeopardise jobs without guaranteeing any better or stronger environmental protections.”

The EPA would also have the power to issue stop-work orders on projects suspected of breaking the law and audit businesses to ensure they are complying with environmental law.

The minister will retain the right to participate in EPA decisions.