Internal Labor group on nature positive


Internal Labor group chides Plibersek on nature-positive ‘vacuum’

Apr 5, 2024 – 4.50pm
An internal Labor green group has attacked the Albanese government’s delays in revealing its pre-election “nature-positive” environmental regulation overhaul amid a gathering backlash from mining and agricultural groups.

Slamming West Australian Premier Roger Cook’s warning this week that the laws would add more green tape to resources approvals, Labor Environment Action Network national co-convener Felicity Wade said there was “no room for delay” on the reforms, given “business as usual means continuing with the world’s highest extinction rate”.

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek has come under fire from all directions over “nature-positive” reforms. Alex Ellinghausen

“The continuing vacuum in detail of the proposed reforms is not helping,” she said of the government’s nearly two-year wait to detail its planned legislation, which it originally pledged to get through the current parliament.

“Reformed environment law was an election commitment by the Albanese government. One that Labor members had campaigned for since 2015,” said Ms Wade, whose group plays an influential role in shaping Labor’s environmental and climate policies as it seeks to counter the growing impact of Greens candidate incursions.

“It’s time for us to get on with getting it done,” she said.

The criticism underscores growing frustration on Labor’s left flank over its handling of so-called nature-positive reforms. The term was given to a package of reforms by Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek in late 2022 as she outlined how Labor would meet its election promise to address Professor Graeme Samuel’s critical review in 2019 of the Howard government’s Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

Subject to a series of secretive consultations between business and environmental groups over recent months, the nature-positive reforms aim to speed up environmental approvals while hardening monitoring and fines for breaches via a newly established federal environmental protection agency.

Indigenous criticism

In another sign of the Albanese’s struggle to unite different players around the reforms, a major Indigenous group responsible for a massive section of land in the southern region of the Northern Territory accused Labor of ignoring the “deep working knowledge” of land councils in regional Australia.

While the Central Land Council welcomed the federal government’s move to create nature-positive environmental laws, it said only “minimal effort” had been made by the government to engage with traditional landowners.

“Not only has the lack of consultation so far bypassed the opportunity for this knowledge to enrich the reforms, it has ignored the degree to which these reforms impact on the rights and interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and disregarded the land councils’ statutory functions,” the CLC said in a submission this week.

With responsibility for some 780,000 square kilometres, an area close to the size of NSW, the CLC said any power held by the environment minister to allow for a so-called prohibited activity exemption in a conservation zone should not be exercised without advice from traditional owners.

“While we strongly support federal environmental law reform in principle, the extent to which a new regime protects the rights and interests of and contributes to better outcomes for our people, will depend on the detailed design and the strength of pathways and protections embedded in new legislation,” its submission said.

Criticism of Ms Plibersek’s proposed laws have grown over the past month or so led by WA resources groups who say the changes will stymie new mines and tie the state up in additional approvals requirements.

Labor plans to introduce four new pieces of legislation, including bills to establish the EPA alongside new environmental approvals rules, according to a briefing document for members of the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies, which took part in the federal consultations in Canberra last month.

The document refers to a “Restoration Contribution Calculator”, a tool the government would use to assess a project’s environmental impact to determine the compensation owed by the responsible company.

A company could either manage their own environmental restoration to achieve a net positive outcome or pay the government a “restoration contribution,” the document said.

Ms Wade challenged major players such as the Business Council of Australia, the Minerals Council of Australia and major mining companies to step up and prevent the nature-positive debate devolving into “crude caricatures”.

“Are these industries truly arguing that they cannot do their business and protect the environment?” Ms Wade said. “If so, their social licence needs a good hard look.

“Surely, a clearer, faster system of approvals in return for stronger environmental outcomes creates the certainty business needs and the social licence it requires.

“Belly-aching about reasonable environmental reform denies the glossy claims.”

Jacob Greber writes about politics, economics and business from Canberra. He has been a Washington correspondent and economics correspondent. Connect with Jacob on Twitter. Email Jacob at [email protected]
Tom Rabe is the WA political correspondent, based in Perth. Connect with Tom on Twitter.


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