In the field of environment, we have some real challenges ahead. The previous government had not published a state of the environment report. There is a reason for them. I’ve been scrutinizing it, and it tells a very terrible story of a decade of neglect under the previous government, with all indications of how our environment is going, way back. Therefore, we will release the State of the Environment report on July 19th at the National Press Club, and I will talk in more detail about our priorities over the coming months.
The report is much worse than you expected. What are the main findings there?
You have to come on the 19th of July. I won’t go into much detail in the report. I’m working my way through it, it’s very substantial work. But I think what I can say, unequivocally, what it can predict, is that it tells a disturbing story about issues like species extinction, and we have to do better about the environment.
Labor said before the last election that we would likely respond to Samuel’s review of the Biodiversity Protection Act to protect the environment. It’s so amazing to have a file [previous Coalition] The government gets someone as special as Graeme Samuel to review laws that are no longer fit for purpose. We know they are not fit for purpose. He does a tremendous job of making it fit for purpose and [Morrison] The government just kind of lets this sink in without a trace.
So, we’ll look at what we need to do to make sure we get faster, cheaper approvals and stronger environmental protection. And I think if we focus on the results we’re trying to achieve, rather than the current EPBC [which] Very process oriented, I think we have a really good starting point there. But there is clearly a lot of work to be done between now and any further concrete announcements about what we are going to do.
What we are going to do right away is start work on meeting our electoral commitments, and therefore stronger protection of the Great Barrier Reef, looking at our rivers and urban catchments, implementing the Murray Darling Basin Plan, and taking care of native species. Species extinction is really worrying. We have the fastest rate of mammal extinction on the planet. Some well-managed species have come back a bit from the brink, but overall, we’re headed in the wrong direction completely.
[Other issues include] Marine plastics, pollution, waste and recycling. I’m looking forward to working with colleagues like Ed Husic, who has the industry portfolio, to look at really good investment opportunities here in Australia that will upgrade the recycling infrastructure, collect more things that will be landfilled and reuse, including not only plastics, but The kind of precious metals and the sale of metals that we find in IT equipment, televisions and all that stuff.
Extensive workload. What do you think of the planned EPA, which was already introduced on the dying day of the election campaign. What level of EPA independence do you have in mind? How it works? Is it legal? How is it funded?
I wouldn’t start making ads without extensive advice. I’ll talk to people about the model, we’ll design a model, and we’ll consult on the model. This is not something I will come up with in a few weeks in my office. It’s a big and important change. We want to better protect the environment, and we want to do it in a way that makes approval processes faster, cheaper and less complicated.
Your policy, according to the business website, states that an independent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has two divisions, including a compliance and assurance division. What kind of judgment would this have?
Well, I guess again, I wouldn’t start designing things in my office without consulting. What I would say is that the results that we’ve seen in our natural environment, the details of the State of the Environment report, such as increased rates of threatened species, worsening environmental outcomes – that’s something we need to address.
And one of the things we’re going to need to address is people doing the wrong thing. People who have pledged to take care of the environment in this special way and who don’t. But I honestly wouldn’t start designing these things without extensive discussion with stakeholders.
Who did you include in your list of stakeholders you want to talk to?
I’d be happy to talk to you more about it in the future. I won’t get into the details of this just yet.
Does it include the resource and farm sectors?
naturally , [also] It includes the business community, but we also need to look at state and territory government stakeholders across the board, including environmental groups, including farmers… Maybe you can identify who we’re talking about with stakeholders as a broader group.
So, for people who haven’t been following what’s going on here, why is this EPA change needed? Why is the current system – which is managed more by managing the environment through the ministry and cabinet process – going wrong from your point of view?
what’s wrong with that? Approvals are slow and expensive. We still have worse environmental outcomes. And we’re doing worse for project proponents using the system we have right now. This is an area that definitely needs updating. This is not a competition between environment and jobs. It is not a competition between environmental protection and development approval. This is a way of making sure we can get approvals faster and more cost-effectively at the same time as we better protect our natural environment and our cultural heritage. At the moment, we do not satisfy either side of this equation.
It seemed that it might be the lack of a strong cop, the American-style EPA, that was the problem. Is this something you agree with?
I’m not going to start some kind of great answer on this topic. This is a major technical work that I will undertake in a comprehensive and systematic manner, with appropriate consultation.
What would you say, then, to the people who worry that it will be a process handed over to a group of technocrats at arm’s length from any political process — the farmers and mining companies who might worry that this is a troubling proposal process?
That is why it is so important to talk to all stakeholders and do a proper job of consulting so that we can reassure people that this is not a competition between jobs and the environment. It is a process that will give us better environmental results, faster and cheaper approvals.
Any ideas on how to fund this?
Once again, we will have extensive consultations on that.
One of the things that struck me when you were presenting your priorities and the focus you were going to take, was there no mention of the effects of climate change? Is this in your kingdom or is this really something that Climate Change and Energy Secretary Chris Bowen is taking care of?
The reason why we put the Department of Environment, Energy, Climate Change, and Water together in one section is because there are really important complementary elements to our policies here. So, for example, when we restore natural habitats, we also provide opportunities to offset carbon. So, replanting timber that allows animals to have a home, in this way we are not only monoculture does not have the same ecological consequence. There is a tremendous amount of integration here. If we want to restore the seagrass and the mangroves, you have a great chance of offsetting carbon, and you get a really great result for the ocean biodiversity there. There is a lot of work that we can do together, and in particular, to benefit regional and rural communities. I think this is one of the most exciting parts of the portfolio.
The same goes for waste and recycling. We have great opportunities to reduce the production of new plastic by recycling the plastic we use. We have a plastic export ban now, so we have an opportunity to invest in upgrading recycling here in Australia by upgrading our recycling infrastructure. These things have naturally complementary elements.
One of the interesting things about the election is that the Labor Party and the previous coalition government lost seats to the Green Party. How do you think about this political pressure, when one day maybe during this period you get the last call on things like the gas projects in Scarborough and Petalo?
I don’t see it as much pressure as a great opportunity. Australian voters have really told us clearly that the environment matters to them. We have come into government with a wonderful agenda to better protect the environment, and for individual decisions I will make according to the evidence before me and the law. I won’t begin to speculate on specific decisions I might make for some time in the future.
On the Barrier Reef, the previous government lobbied against coral reefs listed by the United Nations as endangered and this is something Labor supports. Does this term persist?
definitely. I would absolutely say to the UN, listing coral reefs as in danger is the wrong thing to do. If you read the reasons why corals are under stress, they include climate change, they are under stress due to poor water quality, they are under stress due to the infestation of the crown of thorns of starfish.
Australia has a $1.2 billion commitment between now and 2030 to address many of these pressures, including water quality and starfish crown of thorns, but also using science to regenerate parts of the reef, making sure we use the amazing work that is being done by the Australian Institute Marine Science et al. to help coral reefs adapt to climate change.
Now that we are on track to introduce legislation into our Parliament that locks in our target of reducing emissions by 43 per cent by 2030, and we are on track to achieve net-zero emissions… we are rejoining the international community as a serious player in the fight to reduce the risks of climate change. the climate.
I think it would be unfair for UNESCO to ignore these efforts, whether it’s climate change efforts or the money we’ve dedicated to protecting, rehabilitating and restoring coral reefs. We take this very seriously. We are very serious about better protection of coral reefs. I hope the report will recognize that.
One last question on Murray Darling. Nobody was really worried because it was raining. But things inevitably dry up. Still looking to buy back water titles from farmers?
We were fully committed to implementing the Murray Darling Basin Plan. And we need to ensure that those commitments made to the ecological flows of cultural waters are preserved. There are a lot of state government efforts at the moment. We will make sure that they do what they have committed to as their share of water stewardship. And we’re going to make sure that we work closely with the communities that depend on the Murray Darling, whether it’s for their livelihood through agriculture, whether it’s the water they drink and the water they use in their cities, that they actually have their needs met, as well as the ecological needs of the river system.” It’s a big job. But we are fully committed to getting it right.