ABC News Breakfast interview with Minister Tanya Plibersek

17 April 2024




CATHERINE MURPHY, HOST: The second stage of the Federal Government's Nature Positive Plan is being unveiled today. It includes the establishment of Australia's first national independent Environment Protection Agency with new powers and penalties. Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek joins us now from Sydney. Tanya, we'll get to those announcements in a moment but, Minister, let's start with the fact you're in Sydney. It's been a devastating few days for Sydney‑siders. How is the community feeling?


TANYA PLIBERSEK, MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATER: Well I think we're reeling actually. Both the Bondi Junction attacks on the weekend and this more recent attack on the church have really thrown Sydney‑siders, it's a shocking period.


Many of us know one of the victims or knew people who were there at the shopping centre. So it really is reverberating throughout our community. Our focus is on the victims, their families, their friends, those who have been impacted.


And when it comes to the attack in the church, I mean obviously a place of worship you would think that people would be safe. There's a lot of concern and it's an important time for community leaders I think to provide as much reassurance as we can and to remind people that we have a strong and cohesive community.


MURPHY: As you say, community leaders are calling for calm, as are our faith leaders. But the Premier Chris Minns has raised valid concerns about the use of social media, the spread of disinformation. We saw a calm night last night and a calm night this morning in southwest Sydney. Are you confident that will continue?


MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well I very much hope so and honestly, if you've got any influence on your friends and family, ask them to switch off the social media at the moment. I really don't think that the social media companies are doing as much as they ought to be to support the police in their efforts to keep calm in the community. We know that there are people deliberately trying to stoke the vision on social media, deliberating lying to create that social division. Switch it off. If you can, switch it off.


MURPHY: Good advice. Minister, let's talk about the second stage of the Nature Positive Plan and particularly the formation of the Environment Protection Agency. You say there'll be big penalties to businesses who don't comply. What sort of range are we talking about and how will those penalties be decided?


MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Yeah. Well we think it's important to have a tough cop on the beat so that businesses that deliberately do the wrong thing can be caught.


At the end of last year I asked my Department to do an examination of projects that had been approved where project proponents had promised they would do something to protect the environment, and I asked the Department to have a look at whether those promises had been kept, and in around one in seven cases those promises hadn't been kept.


So that's just one example of why we need tougher oversight and tougher penalties. I'm also going to ask the EPA to look at not just offsets but at illegal land clearing, because we know that there's still a lot of illegal land clearing going on.


The penalties will be in line with some of the most serious types of financial crime. So the upper limit for very serious breaches of environment laws the penalties will now be up to $780 million for a company or up to seven years' jail for an individual. That is much tougher than anything we've got at the moment.


In fact Professor Graeme Samuel when he reviewed our environment laws said a lot of businesses just think that copping the penalty is the price of doing business and they're prepared to flout those laws because the penalties are not significant, and because over the last 10 years there had been no proactive auditing from the Government to make sure that when a business made a promise they would keep that promise to protect the environment. So that's really important.




MINISTER PLIBERSEK: The other thing that we're setting up is Environment Information Australia which will give much greater transparency on how we're going with the environment. The Government set some really important targets, like protecting 30 per cent of our land and 30 per cent of our oceans by 2030, how are we going against that.


Environment Information Australia will make that information publicly available. It will also make information available to proponents who are trying to, you know, do a new project somewhere, to give them environmental data so they can better design that project to avoid sensitive areas, to avoid threatened species habitat.


And the third area of course is we're putting extra money and extra resources into making faster decisions. We've taken decisions from about 46 per cent on time under the previous Government to around 84 per cent on time at the moment, but I think we can still do better.


MURPHY: Minister, in 2022 you promised to introduce draft laws for reform by the end of 2023. That deadline is well and truly passed. This week we've seen new footage of mass coral bleaching. Why is there no time frame, and if not now, when?


MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well we introduced the first tranche of our laws in December last year, and that was establishing the Nature Repair Market and also broadening the protections for water that might be impacted by mining projects, coal or gas or unconventional gas mining.


This is the second stage of our laws. And as Professor Graeme Samuel's made very clear, he thinks it's very sensible to proceed in this staged way.


We're doing a massive consultation on our new laws. The current Act is around 1,000 pages. The legislation that replaces it will be similar. It's big and it's complex as we're going as fast as we can while still talking to environment groups, business groups and the broader Australian community.


You can see the direction we're going in. We've released our Nature Positive Plan. We've had hundreds of hours of consultation with over 100 groups. We've had thousands of people participate in online webinars to give their feedback on the new laws. It's big and it's complex and we'll go as fast as we can.

MURPHY: Thanks for your time this morning, Minister.