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Nature Positive Reforms - Part 2

July 3, 2024:

As I was saying previously: in addition, in 2023 over 270 acres that were bulldozed in the Banana shire for beef pasture had been mapped as habitat for 45 EPBC listed species, including the koala, the northern quoll, the spotted-tail quoll and the greater glider. These areas of critical habitat were able to be cleared because of the continuous land-use exemption in the current EPBC Act. This bushland was able to be cleared without any assessment under our national environment laws. In the midst of an environmental and climate crisis, in a country which leads the world for both its mammal extinctions and deforestation rate, it is extraordinary that this can still be happening.

An assessment of a project's climate change impacts must also be integrated into the EPA's functions through the establishment of a climate trigger. The Australia state of the Environment 2021 report clearly made the point that climate change is supercharging the destruction of our environment and our nature. As I said earlier, already 19 ecosystems across Australia are on the brink of collapse, and, as UN experts warn, greenhouse gas pollution is the largest and most pervasive threat to the natural environment the world has ever known. Environmental destruction, extinctions and climate change are inextricably linked. Any EPA must have a duty to consider and assess projects for their carbon and their methane emissions. Otherwise it will be doing a vastly incomplete and insufficient job, and this will mean we will continue to see widescale destruction of our environment and our species' extinctions. It is illogical in 2024, having already hit 1.5 degrees of global warming, to create Australia's first Environment Protection Agency with no mandate to protect against further climate change impacts.
That takes us back full circle to the problem of establishing this EPA as part of the so-called 'stage 2' and delaying stage 3 until who knows when. This EPA, once created, will only be tasked with enforcing what the environment minister herself described as fundamentally broken nature laws, laws which, for the past 25 years, have failed to protect our nature. As the Climate Council pointed out, more than 7.7 million hectares of threatened species' habitat have been cleared since the EPBC Act came into effect in 1999. There are now 1,918 species under threat, with more than half of those at risk of extinction. More than 740 fossil fuel projects have been waved through under the current act, despite their direct role in fuelling harmful climate change. With the great uncertainty about when or if the stage 3 reforms will ever see the light of day, it is critically important that simple steps, such as repealing the RFA exemptions and implementing a climate trigger, be enacted now, in this stage of the reforms of the EPBC Act.

Australia absolutely needs a national Environment Protection Agency—there is no doubt about it—and I thank and commend the government for their work to establish this body. But it could be so much better and stronger. If ever there were a time for strong and visionary leadership, it is now, and so I urge the minister and the government to act decisively to enact a strong and independent board to oversee the duties of the EPA. This is what environmental organisations across the country are calling for, loud and clear, as a critical step towards the true protection of our nature. I would also strongly urge the minister to include a climate trigger in the EPBC Act in this stage of the reforms and repeal the Regional Forestry Agreement exemptions in this stage of the bills because, if the intention is to truly protect nature, then it simply does not make sense to not do so.