The theme for this year’s International Day of Forests (21 March) is ‘forests and health’. It provides an opportunity to reflect on the important role that forests play in our lives and whether our national environmental laws, which are currently under review, are doing enough to ensure that future generations...
It has been just over a month since Australia chose a new government to lead us during this critical time for our native wildlife and their habitats.
Although we’re already in the grip of an extinction crisis, we now have a parliament with a record number of environment focused MPs, a reality that brings renewed hope that Australia might finally get serious about putting a stop to further environmental degradation.
What are our grounds for hope?
During the election, the Albanese Government committed to creating an independent Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) and their platform includes new National Environment Standards—both absolutely critical if we are to address the increasing risks of habitat destruction and species extinction.
Labor has also promised a full response to Professor Graeme Samuel’s independent review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, our federal laws to protect nature.
The Albanese Government’s EPA promises to oversee compliance and data. It will need to be vigorously independent to remove politics from the enforcement of our nature laws. These nature laws are to be underpinned by a set of strong National Environment Standards, which are essential if we want to future proof our environment against bad decision making. Needless to say, we cannot have one without the other. What use is a robust independent EPA if there is not also a robust set of standards for it to enforce?
The reality is that the EPBC Act allows ministers a lot of discretion in their decision making. They have the choice to make good decisions or poor decisions. Politics bears down on decision makers and all too often politics comes first and the environment loses out. These poor decisions can sometimes be catastrophic on their own or they have a cumulative effect on the degradation of ecosystems and habitats over a long period of time—an extinction crisis by a thousand cuts.
National Environment Standards were drafted and recommended by Professor Samuel after consultation with scientists, industry and conservationists and designed to secure positive environmental outcomes and address cumulative impacts. Strong standards binding decisions makers to achieving good outcomes for the environment will be key to turning Australia’s current trajectory of environmental destruction and deterioration around.
HSI campaigners, myself included, have already been in Canberra twice since the election to meet with key decision makers on the reforms that are so sorely needed. We have been writing to both re-elected and new MPs who will be voting on these crucial reforms when they land in Parliament. We have also written to the new Environment Minister, Tanya Plibersek, whose responsibility it is to deliver them and whose statements to the media have been encouraging. We will be back in Canberra for her first address as Environment Minister to the Press Club on the 19th July and we are very much looking forward to having our first meeting with her.
HSI is hopeful, and ready to get to work for nature.