The Albanese government and Greens have struck a deal to establish a nature repair scheme in exchange for fast tracking an expansion of the water trigger to all unconventional gas projects.
The deal would also prevent trades in a new nature market from being used as offsets for other destruction of habitat.
The nature repair bill would create a market to encourage private spending on projects that protect and restore biodiversity. Businesses would receive tradeable certificates in return for their investment.
The bill and legislation for an expanded water trigger passed the senate on Tuesday night after extensive negotiations between the environment and water minister Tanya Plibersek and the Greens environment spokesperson Sarah Hanson-Young. The Jacqui Lambie Network’s two senators also voted in favour.
The government’s proposal for a nature repair market has been controversial and was the subject of a Senate inquiry that was not due to report to parliament until next year. Support for the bill had collapsed earlier this year, with the Coalition, Greens and cross benchers indicating they would not back it.
But the committee tabled its report on Monday, with the government bringing on debate of the bill in the senate on Tuesday.
Hanson-Young moved an amendment that would mean trading of credits under the scheme as offsets for habitat destruction caused by other development would not be permitted.
The inclusion of offsets was a key criticism of the original bill, with conservationists warning a new market meant to restore and increase nature could contribute to its ongoing decline. Concerns had also been raised about whether there was enough investment demand for the scheme to work,
The government also committed to supporting fast-tracked legislation to strengthen the water trigger so that it applies to all forms of unconventional gas.
The existing water trigger requires the environment minister to consider the impact of large coal and coal seam gas proposals on local water resources. As part of reforms to national environmental laws, the government had promised to expand it to include all types of unconventional gas development, including the shale gas found in the Northern Territory’s Beetaloo Basin, where fracking is a looming issue.
Both the Greens and the independent MP Sophie Scamps had urged the government to act sooner and had introduced their own bills calling for the government to expand the water trigger this year.
With the passage of the nature repair bill and the expanded water trigger, Plibersek has successfully negotiated the passage of three pieces of environmental legislation in the final two weeks of parliament.
“Our nature repair market will make it easier to invest in restoring nature. It will support landholders to do things like replanting koala habitat, excluding livestock to repair natural marshland or eradicating feral species. This is an exciting chance to see extra investment in protecting our environment,” Plibersek said.
“Expanding the water trigger is a sensible change that will make sure that we protect our most precious resource – water.”
Hanson-Young said the expanded water trigger would be “a huge hit on gas fracking corporations in places like the Beetaloo and the Kimberley”.
“Closing the fracking loophole via this ‘water trigger’ will mean gas companies will no longer be able to bypass Australia’s environment laws and fossil fuel companies will not be let off the hook for wrecking waterways and the climate,” she said.
“On nature, the Greens have significantly improved environmental integrity by completely scrapping the dodgy biodiversity offsets that would have been used to greenwash wildlife and habitat destruction within the original nature repair market bill.”
The Coalition and crossbench senators criticised the haste with which the bills had been brought on for debate.
The opposition’s environment spokesperson Jonathon Duniam
said: “This is a disaster of a deal that explicitly repudiates the advice of the Samuel Review. The Greens have done a massive backflip on Bills they previously described as ‘worse than nothing’.”
”And Tanya Plibersek has had to climb down significantly from all of her original big talk and hubris about what was very poorly designed and friendless legislation.”