Plibersek’s biodiversity credits ‘won’t save koalas’, Greens say

A new biodiversity credit system to reverse the sustained catastrophic losses of Australian wildlife has garnered support from the opposition and developers, but conservation groups and the Greens say it could actually damage wildlife recovery.

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek introduced the Nature Repair Market Bill to parliament on Wednesday to establish the market-based scheme, which is intended to drive investment into habitat protection by creating financial credits for landowners who restore and protect important habitat.

Tanya Plibersek’s scheme is intended to drive investment into habitat protection.

Alex Ellinghausen

She said the scheme could turn Australia into a “green Wall Street … where the world comes to invest in environmental protection and restoration”.

Under the scheme, land owners would be paid by a third party for protecting and restoring nature on their property. It will make it easier for businesses, philanthropists and others to invest in repairing nature across Australia such as Indigenous rangers controlling feral animals in the Central Desert or farmers removing invasive weeds and animals to help native wildlife bounce back.

The bill does not rule out allowing the credits to be used as environment offsets, which are purchased by companies to compensate for damage caused by a project in another location.

The Property Council, representing the nation’s housing developers, welcomed Plibersek’s scheme for its potential to generate supply of environmental offsets.

“Many Property Council members have established nature-positive objectives that would benefit from the availability of biodiversity offsets,” the lobby group said in a submission to government, published this week.

The Minerals Council, representing miners, also welcomed the scheme and said it was crucial the scheme allowed project developers to buy biodiversity credits as environmental offsets.

However, many major environmental groups made submissions urging the government to prevent biodiversity credits generated under the scheme from being used as offsets – which are currently regulated under different state and Commonwealth schemes.

The conservation groups warned selling biodiversity credits for offsets could lead to developers determining the price and trade of nature.

Submissions from Humane Society International, the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Wilderness Society urged biodiversity credits be barred from use as environmental offsets.

“By financialising the destruction of nature, offsets allow destructive players to continue business as usual and ‘offsetting’ their impacts on nature,” the Wilderness Society said.

ACF urged Plibersek to deliver the government’s election commitment to bolster national environment laws and introduce new national standards for development assessments, before embarking on her market reform.

“Linking ‘nature repair’ so closely to the generation of offsets risks facilitating the destruction of more existing wildlife habitat,” ACF said.

Greens environment spokesperson Sarah Hanson-Young said her party would not support the bill in its current form.

“Nothing in this bill will save Australia’s koalas from extinction. Until we have laws that protect critical habitat and stop native forest logging, no amount of market spin will save nature,” she said. “The inclusion of offsets as part of a market intended to repair nature is a red flag. What is to stop this from becoming a free pass for industry to continue destroying the environment?”

Nationals leader David Littleproud said Plibersek’s bill “looks to be near verbatim” to the bill he proposed, but did not legislate, during the previous term of government. He said shadow cabinet would review the bill before deciding to support it.

Plibersek said the government was developing a new set of national environment standards to regulate development damage to nature, offsets should only be used as a last resort, and if they are used, they should overcompensate for any damage done.

“Labor is strengthening our national environmental laws to deliver the strongest protections for our environment in Australian history. For the first time, there will be a requirement to leave nature better off.”

The Senate on Wednesday called an inquiry into the bill before it is put to a vote.

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