Response to national EPA not so positive

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New environmental moves don't go far enough according to conservation groups. | Photo: Nastco (iStock)

The second stage of the Federal Government’s plan to better protect the environment has received a luke-warm response from the nation’s conservation groups.

The Nature Positive Plan aims to deliver stronger environment powers, faster environment approvals, and more environment information and transparency.

Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said the second stage of the plan, announced yesterday, included the establishment of Australia’s first national independent Environment Protection Agency (EPA) and a new body, Environment Information Australia, which would give businesses easier access to the latest environmental data, release State of the Environment reports every two years, and report on progress on national environmental goals.

Minister Plibersek also pledged faster environmental approval decisions on projects, including on renewables and critical minerals.

She said the new national EPA would have new powers and penalties to better enforce federal laws.

“The EPA chief will be an independent statutory appointment – similar to the Australian Federal Police Commissioner – to make sure no government can interfere with the new agency’s important enforcement work,” Minister Plibersek said.

After the announcement, conservation councils from around the country said they were dismayed at the fragmentation of the long-awaited nature laws.

In a statement, a collection of seven state-based groups said that in December 2022, Minister Plibersek recognised Australia’s environment laws were broken and promised to deliver “fundamental reform”.

Environment Centre NT Executive Director Kirsty Howey said there had been pushback from “self-interested and well-resourced” mining and gas magnates, and “the Albanese government has capitulated to this pressure, rather than standing up for the interests of the broader community and future generations.”

Nature Conservation Council of NSW CEO Jacqui Mumford said the Nature Positive Plan promised to create upfront protections.

“It promised places that would be off limits to clearing and industrial development; standards that projects would have to meet; regional planning to look holistically at where developments can occur; and a robust federal EPA to make and enforce environmental decisions,” Ms Mumford said.

Queensland Conservation Council Director Dave Copeman Minister Plibersek had delayed key parts of the “fundamental reform”.

“In its place, we can expect the creation of a Federal EPA without all the tools it needs to protect nature,” Mr Copeman said.