Tanya Plibersek MP
After Labor’s election victory on 21 May, millions of progressives and true believers around Australia woke up with an extra spring in their step. I certainly did. After a wasted decade – after a decade of drift and neglect, where people lost faith in the power of government – the entire Labor Party is filled with hope and excitement about what we can achieve for Australia and its people.
This is why everyone in our party worked so hard over the past nine years in opposition. It’s why we endured heart break and disappointment and the cold years of exile: to be back here, in government, with the power to change people’s lives for the better, and with a chance to fulfil this country’s endless potential.
It’s been an exciting few months, but there have been sobering moments too – when the scale of our task has revealed itself.
As Minister for the Environment and Water, one of my first acts was to publicly release the State of the Environment Report. The previous Minister, Sussan Ley, received this document before Christmas but chose to keep it hidden – locked away until after the federal election.
This decision was undemocratic, and it was contemptuous of the Australian people. But when you read through the report you can understand why the conservatives were so desperate to keep it secret – to hide their neglect from the world.
As the report shows, Australia is now the mammal extinction capital of the world, having lost more species than any other continent.
In the past five years, the number of threatened ecological communities has grown by another twenty per cent. The number of threatened species has grown by almost ten percent.
The Murray Darling just experienced its lowest level on record. And for the first time, we have more foreign plant species than native ones in this country.
The previous Government hid the report because they didn’t want Australians to know the truth – because they weren’t prepared to change the laws and economic settings that have led to this environmental catastrophe.
Look at their record on the environment over nine years:
They came to power with a mission to repeal climate legislation and slash emissions reduction targets. They cut funding to the environment department by 40 percent. They wrapped the Murray Darling Basin Plan up in brown tape so it couldn’t be delivered. They cut our highly protected areas of Commonwealth Marine Park in half. And even when they made nice sounding promises, they almost never bothered to deliver them.
While the Coalition was content to waste a decade in power, we are determined not to squander a minute.
That’s why, as one of our first acts in government, Labor legislated higher ambition on climate change, with a clear path to net zero emissions. This is the first step towards building Australia up into a clean energy superpower, with good jobs and abundant power and new globally competitive industries.
It’s why we are determined to rewrite our national environmental laws, to build trust, integrity and efficiency into our system of approvals.
It’s why we’re establishing a new Environmental Protection Agency, to ensure that these laws are being enforced on the ground.
And it’s why we’ve announced a new nature market, to reward farmers and other landholders for their work in restoring and protecting our precious environment.
We will do all of this in partnership with First Nations Australians - because we recognise the great gift we have in Australia of 65,000 years of environmental stewardship to learn from.
We’re taking this action because too many native species are at risk of extinction.
Too many native habitats are being destroyed. And too many places of national environmental significance are being degraded.
We know that our laws aren’t working.
Professor Graeme Samuel reviewed them two years ago, and concluded that they are slow, they lack coherence, and they don’t actually protect the environment.
But like so much else, Scott Morrison thought it was all too hard, so ignored the review.
Ours will not be a government that ignores hard questions, or watches problems deepen until they turn into crises.
The Australians I meet care deeply about the environment - the strong vote for teal independents shows even conservative electorates are prepared to vote for the environment. Australians are sensitive to the threat of climate change. They want to recycle more effectively. They want to minimise their environmental footprint wherever they can.
And they want governments to stop bickering – and to act sensibly in the national interest.
Because it’s only ever Labor Governments that do the big things – the necessary things – to make this country fairer, more productive, more inclusive, and more sustainable.