15 March 2024

As they stand, the Albanese Government’s environmental law reforms are a ticking time bomb ready to cause major damage to businesses, industries and communities across Australia.

The way that Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek is going about updating these laws through a sneaky, secretive, behind closed doors process is not filling industry, community groups, environmental groups nor the Australian public with any confidence that she is going to get these reforms right.

And it’s very likely that Australia will be left with a package of radical, unworkable legislation that the Labor Government will ram through the Parliament with the support of their natural governing partner, the Australian Greens, to the detriment of due process, scrutiny and ultimately, jobs.

We know that the Government has invited a very select group of stakeholders to their private meetings to discuss their proposed changes. But we don’t know how far the Government is preparing to go to hamstring industry for the supposed benefit of the environment.

But invitees to these sessions aren’t allowed to bring computers, laptops or iPads into the room. Instead, they have to hand write down their notes in a lockup that seems more stringent than a national security briefing.

When business groups are increasingly belling the cat to signify that things are falling apart in the “consultation” process, we have to sit up and take notice. If industry is warning that this will be bad for them, it will be bad for jobs in the mining, construction and agriculture

The Labor Party doesn’t get that these sectors provide stability to our regions and are important revenue sources for governments to meet their respective essential services, education and infrastructure payment obligations.

If you hamstring companies with so much with red and green tape, just like we are seeing through their complex industrial relations reforms, you run the risk of businesses offshoring their mining or primary industry operations to countries that don’t share our concerns for our natural environment.

If environmental approvals for projects become so complex, why would you do business here?

Tanya Plibersek is already months past her own deadline to bring these new laws to the Parliament.

This is leaving a significant void that is being picked up by bureaucrats who I fear don’t fully understand the extra costs being imposed on the aforementioned industries, nor the impact of job losses.

In fact, I have grave concerns that some of the proposed changes will give too much power to bureaucrats and will make our environmental laws unworkable for many businesses.

The proposed creation of a Federal Environmental Protection Authority, on top of the many State and Territory EPAs, is a classic example.

From what I have seen, the Federal EPA will have virtually unfettered powers and limited ministerial call-in powers on key environmental approval decisions. This is an abdication of responsibility that I fear Minister Plibersek is enacting to avoid uncomfortable decisions for left-leaning Labor environment ministers to do things that are necessary for our economy, like approving a gas project or a new iron ore mine.

The prospect of immense fines in the hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars, for companies that find themselves falling foul of the law is just as worrying.

The last major tranche of national environmental legislation that passed the Federal Parliament was in 1999 when the Howard Government introduced the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act following nigh on a decade of a truly bipartisan discussion and consultation.

The Coalition recognises that there needs to be an update of the EPBC Act.

In the last Federal Parliament, the Coalition Government consulted widely and openly to propose laws that improved environmental legislation. We also instigated the comprehensive Samuel Review process for this very purpose.

Labor voted against progress then, and here we are three years later without their promised exposure draft laws and a minister who has chosen to resist any skerrick of bipartisanship in her approach to reform.

Throughout this time, the Coalition has stood ready to work with the Labor Party on laws that would actually stand the test of time. Our approaches have been met with deafening silence.

We don’t want to be left with a mess of legislation like the WA Government’s disastrous Indigenous cultural heritage changes that were met, rightly, with community condemnation.

But that is where it looks like we are heading.

The Government need to be open and upfront about its process if it wants durable, constructive changes to environmental laws.

They cannot expect the Coalition’s or the community’s support if they don’t bring us on the journey to reach sensible laws that balance the economy and the environment.

The Nightly – Why Albo’s green law reforms are a ticking time bomb