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Environment and business to benefit from Nature Positive Plan: Plibersek

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The Hon. Tanya Plibersek, Minister for the Environment and Water, Media Release, 16 April 2024

The environment and business will benefit from the second stage of the Albanese Government’s Nature Positive Plan, announced today.

The changes will better protect the environment while supporting sensible development.

They will deliver stronger environment powers, faster environment approvals, and more environment information and transparency.

Parliament House Canberra

Key updates are:

Australia’s first national independent Environment Protection Agency with strong new powers and penalties to better protect nature.

More accountability and transparency with a new body called Environment Information Australia which will give businesses easier access to the latest environmental data, release State of the Environment reports every two years, and report on progress on national environmental goals.

Faster environmental approval decisions on projects, thanks to a $100 million investment, including on renewables and critical minerals.

Quotes attributable to the Minister for the Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek:

“Our Government is doing more than ever to protect our country’s natural treasures, native plants and animals, so Australians can continue to enjoy our lifestyle in the great outdoors.

“We’re delivering stronger protections for the environment, including Australia’s first ever independent national Environment Protection Agency.

“We’re also working to support faster, clearer decisions for business. That greater certainty for business will help drive investment in nation-building projects.

“When I first announced the Nature Positive Plan, I said it would take a bit of cooperation, compromise and common sense to deliver. That’s exactly how we’re approaching the rollout.”

For more detail, please see the factsheet below.

Second stage of Government’s Nature Positive Plan – factsheet

The environment and business will benefit from the second stage of the Albanese Government’s Nature Positive Plan, announced today.

The changes will better protect the environment while supporting sensible development.

They will deliver stronger environment powers, faster environment approvals, and better environment information and transparency.

Stronger environment powers

Australia will get its first national Environment Protection Agency (EPA), with strong new powers and penalties to better enforce federal laws.

The EPA chief will be an independent statutory appointment – similar to the Australian Federal Police Commissioner – to make sure no government can interfere with the new agency’s important enforcement work.

The EPA will be able to issue Environment Protection Orders – or ‘stop-work’ orders – to anyone breaking the law. It will also be able to audit businesses to ensure they are compliant with environment approval conditions.

Penalties will be increased, too, bringing maximum fines into line with punishments for serious financial offences such as insider trading and market manipulation.

For extremely serious intentional breaches of federal environment law, courts would be able to impose fines of up to $780 million or send people to prison for up to seven years.

Importantly, the new EPA will provide better guidance and education to make sure businesses are clear about the rules, so they can do the right thing.

Results of an offsets audit underscore the need to urgently strengthen enforcement.

The audit, ordered by Minister Plibersek last year, found that around one in seven developments could be in breach of their offset conditions – that is where a business had not properly compensated for the impact a development was having on the environment.

As a result, for the first time, a dedicated team has been set up within the department to proactively audit offsets for projects approved under national environment law.

In addition, the EPA will be responsible for enforcing other federal laws such as recycling, hazardous waste, wildlife trafficking, sea dumping, ozone protection, and air quality.

More environment information and transparency

The Albanese Government will also establish a new body called Environment Information Australia (EIA).

It will give businesses easier access to the environmental data they need, and give the community more transparent information about the state of Australia’s environment.

EIA will:

  • provide government and the general public with authoritative, high-quality information and environmental data via a public website;
  • develop an online database to help give business quicker access to data to help make federal environmental approvals smoother – this will help avoid the need for scientific studies to be unnecessarily repeated;
  • be required, by law, to publish State of Environment reports more frequently – every two years, instead of five – so future governments can’t hide the truth about the Australian environment, like the last Liberal Government did; and
  • publicly report on progress towards environmental goals such as protecting 30 per cent of Australia’s land and seas by 2030.

The EIA chief will be a statutory office holder with independent functions to make sure no government can interfere with its work.

Faster environment approvals

The Albanese Government is allocating nearly $100 million to speed up environmental approval decisions.

This significant investment includes: 

  • more support for staff to assess project proposals from business, including renewables and critical minerals;
  • more tailored support to help business more effectively comply with environment law;
  • more funding for research into threatened species so sensitive areas can be more easily avoided and suitable projects can be more quickly approved based on robust, existing publicly available data; and
  • more planning – working with state and territory governments – in seven priority regions so it’s clearer to business where complying development can more easily occur and where the ‘no go’ areas are.

Getting on with delivery

Laws to deliver the second stage of the Government’s Nature Positive Plan will be introduced into Parliament in the coming weeks.

The first stage was completed late last year when laws passed the Parliament to establish the world’s first Nature Repair Market, and to expand the ‘water trigger’ so all unconventional gas projects have to be assessed for their impact on water resources.

The Federal Government will fully deliver the third stage of environment law reform by continuing to consult closely with environment groups, business, states and territories, and others, on further updates to national environment laws, as outlined in the Government’s Nature Positive Plan.

As part of the third stage, there will be a comprehensive exposure draft of the new laws released for public consultation, prior to their introduction to Parliament.

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