Yesterday, the Federal Environment Minister, Tanya Plibersek, finally released the 2021 State of the Environment Report[i] that had been presented to the previous government in 2021 but not released. Minister Plibersek also addressed the National Press Club, flanked by the nation’s leading scientists. Her speech deserves attention – see link[ii].
The Minister pledged to work to national environmental standards, effective enforcement and a formal response by end 2022 to the 2020 Samuel Report into national environmental legislation[iii]. She pointed to Australia’s loss of more mammal species than any other country, ocean plastic pollution, degrading soils and the effects of bushfires that will repeat unless urgently addressed. She noted that 90% of Australia’s vast deforestation is never assessed. She set three goals as her government’s agenda – protect, restore and manage. Legislating on climate change was, she said, ‘a start’. Noting broad agreement between business and environmental groups, she saw no conflict between jobs and environment. The Minister also committed to introduce new stand-alone Indigenous cultural heritage legislation[iv].
The 2021 State of the Environment Report notes little change since its 2011 report:
The main pressures facing the Australian environment today are the same as in 2011: climate change, land-use change, habitat fragmentation and degradation, and invasive species[v].
Importantly, the 2021 Report points to amplifying threats due to the cumulative effect of interactions between these environmental pressures. Coal mining and the coal-seam gas industry, litter in coastal and marine environments and greater traffic volumes in capital cities are additional challenges. The Report calls for an overarching national policy establishing a clear vision – supported by clear legislative frameworks at national, state and territory levels. Efficient, collaborative and complementary planning and decision-making processes are recommended.
Reacting to the report, the Law Council of Australia (LCA) called for immediate action to fully and comprehensively respond to the Samuel Report including immediate development of enforceable national environmental standards and establishment of an independent oversight body for national legislation. It pointed to the damaging impact of climate change on matters of national environmental significance. Referring to its Climate Change Policy and its principles for law reform, LCA stated:
‘A robust and reformed EPBC Act is needed to ensure that the right balance is achieved in the interests of the environment, business and the community.’[vi]
The CSIRO released an Expert Commentary on the SOE Report[vii], noting that its scientists had made significant contributions to the Report. Its Chief Executive urged all Australians to deeply engage with it.
Kellehers shares concern at the revelations contained in the 2021 State of the Environment Report. It awaits with tremendous interest new, and long overdue, law reform initiatives for Australia’s national environmental legislation as well as stand-alone, purpose built Indigenous cultural heritage.
20 July 2022
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[iii] https://epbcactreview.environment.gov.au/resources/final-report (accessed 20 July 2022)
[iv] Kellehers called strongly for this throughout its 2022 NAIDOC series – available on our website.
[vii] https://www.csiro.au/en/news/News-releases/2022/State-of-the-Environment-2021-report-released (accessed 20 July 2022).