Tanya Plibersek has spoken openly about the state of Australia’s environment but promises the federal government is up to the challenge of fixing the issues.
During a nationwide zoom call, the environment minister faced questions about conservation, environmental offsets, deforestation and the Murray-Darling Basin.
More than 1000 passionate environmentalists from across Australia joined the online call on Monday evening and provided a rolling commentary in the chat box as she spoke.
Ms Plibersek said the federal government had a once in a lifetime opportunity to get Australia’s environmental laws right.
“We’ve been presiding over the slow destruction of nature and we can’t do that any more,” she said.
“We want to flip our laws so they are nature positive.”
The minister was quickly forced to defend the Albanese government’s approval of new coal and gas mines, saying responsibility for assessing a project’s climate impacts rested with Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen.
But the government took the impact of climate change on the environment seriously, Ms Plibersek added.
“I am the first Australian environment minister in history to reject a coal project, I’ve cancelled two others (and) I’m not afraid to do it,” she said.
“But it’s not the environmental law, predominantly that regulates whether and how we get to net-zero emissions.
“It’s the climate change minister that regulates through the safeguard mechanism whether those projects fit within Australia’s trajectory to net-zero (emissions).”
Conservation council representatives also raised their concerns with native forest logging and protecting habitat for Australian species, many of which are endangered.
Ms Plibersek committed to working with state counterparts on land clearing laws and promised an oversight agency would address illegal practices.
“It’s really important to have an environment protection agency, like the one we’re setting up, to be a tough cop on the beat (and) to make sure illegal land clearing isn’t happening and isn’t being gotten away with,” she said.
But despite large amounts of money committed to address environmental decline in Australia, the minister acknowledged there was a long way to go.
She took the opportunity to spruik her proposed nature repair market, which faces an uphill battle after the opposition and Greens signalled they would not support it.
“I want to see additional money going in through private and philanthropic investment and that is the whole purpose of the market, that I know is controversial with some people,” Ms Plibersek said.
“Never has there been more spending on the environment (but) it is just barely touching the sides of what we need to do.
“The opportunity of seeing additional investment that is regulated, transparent, searchable on a public register (and) where people can be held to account for actually delivering what they’ve promised to deliver, I want to see that happen.”
(Australian Associated Press)