The Henry Review found, essentially, that the NSW Biodiversity Act is not working and that biodiversity continues to decline in the state of New South Wales. Although the law is complex, the policy bottom line is simple: biodiversity is protected to a degree, but this will never stand in the way of development prioritised by government. The review proposes to switch off the discretionary ‘balancing’ that occurs under the auspices of the Ecologically Sustainable Development principles (under which the ‘balance’ almost always favours development). And to switch on a ‘nature positive’ framework.
The first version of Australia’s national wellbeing framework “Measuring What Matters” has been released. The basic idea of the report is to shift from our narrow focus on key economic indicators, such as GDP and inflation, to embrace a wider suite of indicators that measure our overall quality of life. In the environment theme, six areas are covered: (urban) air quality; biodiversity; climate resilience; emissions reduction; protected areas; and resource use and waste generation. The headline result has to be that the threatened species index, which tracks the abundance of a selection of threatened species, shows a decline of 55% from a 1985 baseline to 2019, a period of just 34 years. This is a shocking number.
Has time been called on the native forest logging deals of the 1990s? Here’s what the Albanese government can do
It seems time is being called on the forest settlement of the 1990s. These developments are already destabilising the federal government’s environmental law reform agenda, and could even derail it. The government could use the time between now and next year’s Senate debate on its reform package to work up a new approach. It could be built around forest restoration, conservation and Indigenous empowerment, as experts are proposing. If it doesn’t, we are headed for quite a stoush.
The Senate has just wrapped up its Budget Estimates hearings. The good news is that most of the ‘substance’ relates to increased activity. The recent years of inactivity on the environment are clearly over. The bad news is that it will take a long time to generate fresh momentum.
$78 Billion from a Nature repair market? Seriously? Tanya Plibersek’s Nature Repair Market Bill 2023
Price Waterhouse Coopers has produced a report, A Nature-Positive Australia, which says that there could be $78 billion of private investments in Nature repair in Australia by 2050. Seriously? There are multiple reasons why this seems highly unlikely.
Australia’s environment minister faces some tough calls in developing national environmental standards. If strong and clear, they will protect nature and make it harder to get developments approved. But if the standards lack a clear statement of purpose and carry over rubbery phrases and weak offset requirements, then it will be business as usual, freshly wrapped.
If the environment minister is serious about the domestic delivery of the Kunming-Montreal 2030 biodiversity targets, she’ll need to burn a lot of political capital, not just with various stakeholders, but with her own Cabinet colleagues.
Can markets put a value on improvements in biodiversity, enabling landholders to be paid for their services to nature and allowing businesses, among others, to invest in the biodiversity credits that landholders would produce. The new Nature Repair Market bill certainly aligns with this framing, but investors are unlikely to sign up, at least not without inducements.
The Albanese Government’s ‘Nature Positive Plan’ announced last week is a much-anticipated response to Professor Graeme Samuel’s 2020 Review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act. The plan is packed with policy announcements, most of which stick close to Samuel’s recommendations. But the path of this big agenda stretches far over the political horizon and is littered with hurdles. Here are ten hurdles the minister will have to jump, just for starters.
One of the main findings of the Samuel Review of the EPBC Act was that it was not trusted, either by business nor by the wider community. Restoring trust requires a fundamental shift from process-based decision-making to outcome-based decisions. This requires standards supported by regional plans and stronger institutions, including information systems and compliance regimes. At the end of the day, people will only trust environmental laws that truly protect and conserve the environment.
The consequences of Australia’s long-term underfunding of our national environmental law, compounded in some cases by lack of political vision or will, are that many of the foundations of the current system of environmental protection and conservation provided for by the EPBC Act are either significantly under-done, or not done at all.
Proposals for regulatory streamlining, and for the alignment of federal and state environmental assessment laws have been floated at various times over the last 30 years. Graeme Samuel’s review recommended a harmonising of both environmental processes and outcomes between federal and state jurisdictions. To do this we need to: Develop national standards; build a risk-based decision-making system; accredit states to take most of the decisions.
Taking Indigenous knowledge and values seriously: The second transformation of national environmental law
Taking Indigenous knowledge and values seriously in environmental policy is not limited to the transformation recommended by Professor Samuel under the EPBC Act. Providing for ‘respectful consideration of Indigenous views and knowledge’ will take time and investment.
Getting results: the first transformation of our national environmental law starts with ‘standards’
To transform our national environmental law, we need to begin with ‘standards’
Discretionary, bottom-up decision-making is no way to achieve consistent & ecologically sustainable outcomes.
Five transformations: Breathing life into Australia’s national environmental law
The EPBC Act is the most important environmental law in the country, but it doesn’t work. To achieve what it was established to do it needs to:
– pursuing national environmental outcomes (rather than just be a prescriptive regulatory processe);
– shift from Indigenous tokenism to full use of Indigenous knowledge;
– simplify regulatory outcomes between federal and state jurisdictions;
– lay new foundations for quality decision-making; and
– restore trust in decision-making.
Down into the weeds again – the new government announces a return to bioregional planning
Our new environment minister has announced the government’s commitment to regional (biodiversity) planning. Australian governments have been talking about this approach for over 25 years. If done well, regional planning has the potential to enable biodiversity conservation to be integrated across land uses, programs and tenures, and enhance resilience to climate change. But doing it well will take money, good planning and collaboration with multiple partners – a big ask for any national government.
- business as usual
- climate change
- David Salt
- environmental accounts
- Peter Burnett
- Policy lessons