Media Releases - 19 July 2022

Minister Plibersek sets timetable for national environmental law reform as State of the Environment report reveals national crisis

Gang gang cockatoos were recently listed as Endangered.
  • State of the Environment Report 2021 demonstrates the crisis arising from decades-long wilful neglect of nature and cultural heritage

  • New Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek acknowledges it is shocking reading and that the community no longer has trust in Australia’s environment laws

  • The Minister made clear that fundamental reform of Australia’s environmental laws and institutions is required and a priority for the Government

Today, new Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek released the long overdue State of the Environment Report 2021. As was widely expected, it paints a picture of Australia’s worsening nature crisis—Australia’s unique plants and animals continue to be added to threatened species lists, climate change is wreaking havoc on land and sea Country, and forests are being cleared, logged and degraded.

The Wilderness Society welcomes the timetable for environmental law reform outlined by the Minister today, and urges a greater focus on compliance and enforcement of existing environmental law in the meantime.

“Minister Plibersek today acknowledged in her address to the National Press Club that Australia is one of the world’s deforestation hotspots. Over 7 million ha of potential threatened species habitat was cleared or seriously degraded between 2000 and 2017 and the vast majority of deforestation is occurring without ever being assessed under national environmental laws,” said National Campaigns Director, Amelia Young.

“While the planned law reform is under way, it is vital that the out of control, and questionably legal deforestation is reined in, so that the destruction of threatened species habitat is stopped.

“The Minister’s commitment today to protect, restore and manage Australia’s natural environment needs to, as stated, begin with protection.

“This is a long overdue government commitment to some action—and the ambition Minister Plibersek outlined today must, by her own admission, be matched by achievement. There is little room for compromise if that action isn’t actually going to lead to the better outcomes that are so badly needed. If reforms are to be successful they will need to deliver on four key principles,” said Amelia Young.

“Reformed laws will need to be effective and actually change the status quo of the destruction and degradation happening on the ground. They will need to be fair and apply across all sectors of the economy and society with no exceptions. They will need to have integrity and give the community a meaningful say in environmental decisions that affect them. And they will need to be forward looking. Nature clearly needs help to thrive—funding, science, institutions and real recovery and management efforts.

“This is a national crisis that’s been decades of wilful negligence in the making. Successive governments simply haven’t taken the crisis seriously, but what we are seeing now—not just in this report and the numerous others like it, but all around us when fires destroy ancient forests, or rivers run dry or a koala sighting becomes a rarity—are the very serious consequences of consistent inaction.

“Acting to protect nature from climate harm means stopping all new fossil fuel exploitation and discontinuing the mindless release of seabed for the fossil fuel sector to explore for more oil and gas. No more public funding of fossil fuel corporations is also necessary. This is so important because, as the Report authors noted, urgent emission reductions will improve the trajectory of almost every species and ecosystem across the country.

“We can’t let another five years go by, and wait for another State of the Environment Report, to act. Law reform, funding and investment, and improved state and federal government cooperation is vital, now.

“The SoE report’s findings are grim, but they can hardly be considered a surprise. Now governments and businesses must urgently change their approach.

“The State of the Environment report reinforces the scale and urgency of the action and investment required to protect our environment, climate and extraordinary cultural and natural heritage,” said Amelia Young. “The continued compromise of the natural world to vested interests will inevitably lead to the accelerating degradation of our shared environment and quality of life.”

For further comment contact Amelia Young on 0404 074 577 or Troy Beer on 0405 409 600.