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Environmental laws under the new federal government

25 May 2022

4 min read

#Planning, Environment & Sustainability

Published by:

Jacob Atkinson, Christopher Watt

Environmental laws under the new federal government

The federal election has ushered in a new federal government for Australia and signalled an electoral mandate to improve federal environmental frameworks and legislate for climate action.

The Australian Labor Party has provided guidance on how it intends to amend the existing legal framework for environmental management and protection, including through the establishment of a federal Environment Protection Agency, reinstating the National Water Commission, providing additional funding for reef protection programs and decarbonising the economy under the Powering Australia plan. If acted on, the commitments of the new federal government present a significant change in environmental and climate regulation in Australia.

We look at a few of the most significant proposed policies below.

Powering Australia

The government’s decarbonisation goal of net zero by 2050 is backed by the Powering Australia plan. The most significant aspects of the plan are the commitments to funding, including:

  • $20 billion to upgrade the electricity grid
  • $3 billion from Labor’s National Reconstruction Fund to support renewables manufacturing and the deployment of low-emissions technologies
  • $100 million co-invested for 85 community solar banks across the country
  • $200 million for 400 community batteries
  • $10 million for a New Energy Skills Program for 10,000 new apprentices in the renewable energy sector.

The plan essentially aims to expand renewable energy in Australia and reduce emissions across industries. Other aspects of the plan include a new National Electric Vehicle Strategy to manage electric vehicle infrastructure, the restoration of the Climate Change Authority to review Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions and report on the national carbon budget and policies to encourage private investment in emissions reductions.

A new national environmental protection agency

In 2020, an independent review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) by Professor Graeme Samuel identified that –

“There has been limited activity to enforce the EPBC Act over the 20-year period it has been in effect and a lack of transparency about what has been done. The Department has improved its regulatory compliance and enforcement functions in recent years. However, it still relies on a collaborative approach to compliance and enforcement, which is too weak.”

In response to this concern, amongst others, the new government proposes an independent Environment Protection Agency. The new agency will have two divisions, one for compliance and another for environmental data. The aim of the new agency is to support new legally enforceable National Environmental Standards within the EPBC Act that would describe the environmental outcomes it is seeking to achieve and ensure decisions are made in a way that contributes to them.

The exact form of the new agency is yet to be outlined, with interesting questions arising about the extent of any agency powers in regards to enforcement and the appropriate forum for review of agency decisions.

Water for Australia plan

The Water for Australia plan is a broad policy to provide for water security in Australia, mostly through restoring investment and powers in the existing water law framework, namely:

  • the establishment of a National Water Commission to drive coherent, long term reform and water policy
  • expand investment under the National Water Grid investment policy to bring water supplies to regional and remote communities and agricultural projects
  • safeguarding the Murray-Darling Basin Plan (Plan) by ensuring the Inspector General of Water Compliance has the power to crack down on water theft, improving metering and measuring, and investing up to $8.5 million to commission the CSIRO to re-run the Sustainable Yield study (which will inform how much water take can be permitted under the Plan to be sustainable).

Further reforms are promised for the Plan, including the Sustainable Rivers Audit being re-established to assess the ecological health of the Basin, requiring a unique common identifier for all water traders and delivering $40 million of cultural water for Indigenous Australians. Also, 450 GL of additional water committed for the environment will be delivered.

The ambitious commitments made by the new government already form a major shift in the national environmental and climate framework.

If you have any questions, please contact us below or send in your enquiry here.

Authors: Joseph Monaghan, Jacob Atkinson & Christopher Watt

The information in this article is of a general nature and is not intended to address the circumstances of any particular individual or entity. Although we endeavour to provide accurate and timely information, we do not guarantee that the information in this article is accurate at the date it is received or that it will continue to be accurate in the future.

Published by:

Jacob Atkinson, Christopher Watt

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