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The federal government will officially respond to a landmark report into Australia’s environmental laws by the end of the year and introduce new legislation for 2023.
Minister Tanya Plibersek said statutes and administrative systems need to change to prevent further decline of the environment.
Current laws are not meeting the needs of the environment or businesses, she declared, as the 2000-page State of the Environment report was released on Tuesday.
Using a National Press Club address to outline the government’s response to the report, Ms Plibersek said compliance and complications with laws needed to be addressed by the reforms.
“We will consult thoroughly on environmental standards, but in the meantime I want to see an immediate start on improving our environmental data and regional planning,” she said.
“People will have very different ideas about what national environmental standards should look like and as minister I will probably make some calls that some people disagree with.
“But I am absolutely determined to improve the system.”
Ms Plibersek also announced the government will set a target of having 30 per cent of Australia’s land and marine mass as a protected area by the end of the decade, which includes the pursuit of the east Antarctic marine park.
The oceans target has already been surpassed, but Ms Plibersek says finding the final three to four per cent of the national estate would be a challenge.
The Albanese government will also double the number of Indigenous Rangers to 3800 by 2030 and expand Indigenous protected areas.
The five-yearly State of the Environment report – a comprehensive assessment of the state of the environment and its management – revealed Australia’s environment is sick and getting sicker as the combined effects of climate change, pollution, land clearing and mining take a toll.
“Overall, the state and trend of the environment of Australia are poor and deteriorating,” it says.
Former environment minister Susan Ley received the report in December but didn’t release it ahead of the May federal election.
“(The) report was received by the previous government well before Christmas and they kept it secret before the election. And when you read the report, you’ll understand why they kept it secret,” Ms Plibersek said.
“It’s a very grim read.”
Ms Plibersek described the report as a “confronting” but said “Australians deserve the truth”.
She said the government was consulting the sector on the best ways to reform the system, with Professor Graham Samuel’s review of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to be used as a starting point.
The environment minister says she will be guided by the three goals of “protect, restore and manage”.
“To offer proper protection, we need to set clear environmental standards with explicit targets around what we value as a country and what our laws need to protect,” Ms Plibersek said.
“This will require a fundamental reform around national environmental rules and empowering a new environmental protection agency to enforce them.”
But she ruled out increasing the government’s 43 per cent emissions reductions target, saying it was important the crossbench don’t “hold out for perfection”.
Opposition environment spokesman Jonathon Duniam rejected Ms Plibersek’s criticism of the former Morrison government.
“Tanya Plibersek needs to get on with her job as federal environment minister, rather than engage in partisan finger-pointing and game-playing,” he said.
“Australians are looking for practical measures and sensible solutions that help our natural environment, and serious plans and programs through which these are delivered.
“Sadly, these remained absent from Ms Plibersek’s speech.”
Dominic Giannini and Tess Ikonomou
(Australian Associated Press)