Media Releases - 16 April 2024

Government announces a form of ‘EPA’ but forests still hanging in the balance

Australia remains a global deforestation hotspot.

The Albanese government’s promised reform of Australia’s national environment law will be split into tranches. Today it announced the establishment of a proposed new entity, Environment Protection Australia, and a new data office. The full suite of promised reforms are still desperately needed to stop deforestation and end Australia’s wildlife extinction crisis, but now hang in the balance.

Establishing ‘Environment Protection Australia’ with enforcement powers will not alone remedy the existing weak environment laws, nor be enough to save the many species sliding towards extinction.

The Wilderness Society cautions that the proposed model for ‘Environment Protection Australia’ lacks the independence and integrity needed to shield development and environmental decision-making from undue influence by vested interests.

Australia’s nature needs a genuine environmental protection authority that is established in the same way as other Commonwealth regulators like ASIC or APRA—that is, governed by an independent board and backed up by adequate funding for it to do its job properly.

The EPBC Act has been shown time and again to be ineffective in protecting forests from deforestation and reversing species extinction, with Australia being a global deforestation hotspot, and iconic wildlife like the koala now recognised as being endangered in Queensland, NSW and the ACT.

The Albanese government has committed to no new extinctions. It joined 123 other countries in committing to end deforestation by 2030 at the Glasgow COP23 climate summit, and reinforced its commitment at the recent COP28 summit in December 2023.

The government has repeatedly acknowledged that Australia’s nature law is broken. A new compliance and enforcement entity may, at best, improve enforcement of this existing broken law. Other elements of reform, like strong and binding national environmental standards, narrow and defined ministerial call-in powers, the removal of exemptions for particular sectors (like native forest logging), community rights to timely and accurate information about proposed developments, and the ability for assessment decisions to be reviewed, as well as enacting a strong First Nations participation standard likewise urgently need to come before the parliament this term of office.

Sam Szoke-Burke, Biodiversity Policy and Campaign Manager for the Wilderness Society, said, “An increased focus on compliance is desperately needed to rein in the unsupervised mass bulldozing and logging of Australia’s special forests and bushland that is still happening every day under the Albanese government. But ‘Environmental Protection Australia’ will not alone be enough to change the status quo for nature.

“Australia’s nature laws are broken—the government has said so itself—and improved enforcement of broken laws will not alone be enough to halt deforestation or prevent species extinction.

“Not only is the public ready for strong environmental reforms, Australia’s parliament is also highly engaged and ready to change the status quo for Australia’s iconic landscapes and species.

“In addition to strong law reform, nature urgently needs the government to take other actions that don’t require legislative change right now like significantly increasing funding, actively policing land clearing and disincentivising destruction by making an example of environmental vandals.”

For interviews with Sam Szoke-Burke, Biodiversity Policy and Campaign Manager for the Wilderness Society, please contact Rhiannon Cunningham, Media Adviser, on 0419 992 760 or [email protected]