Tanya Plibersek faces major challenges as environment minister



“The reforms have to start immediately because it’s big and it will take the whole term, in our view, to really reform the national environmental laws because they’re so broken,” she said.

“We were pleased to see someone like Tanya Plibersek be put in [the environment portfolio] because it shows [Labor] understand the size of the reform that they need to do,” O’Shannessy said after suggestions Plibersek was demoted when moved from the education portfolio.

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After the 10-yearly review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act by Graeme Samuel, handed down in 2020, Labor pledged to overhaul the laws, as Samuel advised was needed to halt the “continued decline of our iconic places and the extinction of our most threatened plants, animals and ecosystems”.

Labor also pledged days before the campaign started to revitalise the ambitious $13 billion Murray-Darling Basin Plan, which was created in 2012 to recover water from irrigators for the environment but has stalled in recent years after pushback from rural communities.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese committed $26 million to create a National Water Commission, but he hasn’t said if a controversial program of buying water titles from farmers will be restarted.

As environment minister, Plibersek will have to balance competing demands from inside the party and the government risks disappointing its grassroots members when it is called to decide on the future of big coal and gas projects such as Woodside’s Scarborough gas project off the Western Australian coast.

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The International Energy Agency has found there is no room for the emissions created by any new fossil fuel developments if the world is going to reach net zero greenhouse emissions by 2050 and green groups and the Greens party are demanding the federal government ban new coal or gas projects.

But Albanese has pledged Labor will approve fossil fuel projects if the economic and environmental assessments stack up, a position backed by powerful unions the CFMMEU and Australian Workers’ Union.

When companies seek approval for major fossil fuel projects, it could require Plibersek to be the final arbiter deciding their fate.

Plibersek’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

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