3 July 2024


URGENT: The Senate has the power to strengthen nature laws

The Australian Government’s first set of Nature Positive Bills has passed the lower house. These bills do not go far enough to protect our fragile environment. There is an opportunity now for the Senate to call for improvements to close Australia’s logging loophole and strengthen our federal watchdog. Call on senators now to vote for these changes.

There’s so much to cherish when it comes to Australia’s environment. Our continent is blessed with a diversity of natural landscapes, including ancient rainforests, majestic coasts, vibrant reefs, sweeping plains, magnificent mountains, and so much more.

Our natural landscapes are also home to a diverse range of wildlife found nowhere else in the world. People from all over the planet visit Australia to see our iconic animals in the wild, including koalas, wallabies, colourful birds and possums the size of your finger.

Dhilba Guuranda-Innes National Park Ranger, Mark Davison holds a pygmy possum on the Yorke Peninsula, South Australia.
Dhilba Guuranda-Innes National Park Ranger, Mark Davison holds a pygmy possum on the Yorke Peninsula, South Australia. © WWF-Australia / Paul Fahy
Swift parrot perched on a branch
Swift parrot perched on a branch © Dave Curtis / Flickr

Unfortunately, Australia also has a terrible track record in protecting our wildlife and the places our wildlife call home. We have the worst mammal extinction rate of any country in the world and in the last decade, three of our native species were lost to extinction.

With the 2019-20 catastrophic bushfires impacting nearly 3 billion animals and destroying over 12 million hectares of habitat, many more of our precious wildlife species are being pushed further to the brink of extinction.

What is the difference between Nature Laws, Nature Positive Bills, and the EPBC Act?

The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, also known as Australia’s federal nature laws, is Australia’s national environmental legislation. This vital Act contains the main laws that focus on protecting and conserving the country’s important environmental ecosystems, including significant wildlife, plants, habitats and places. 

These laws came into force on 16 July 2000 and every 10 years the act undergoes a statutory, independent review.

The Nature Positive Bills currently before the Parliament are one part of the overall package of reforms to the EPBC Act promised by the Labor Government.  

What are the Regional Forestry Agreement exemptions, and why do they need to be removed?

Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) exemptions allow logging activities to bypass the strict environmental assessments required by federal laws, such as the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act. These exemptions have led to significant habitat destruction, as seen with the Endangered greater gliders in Tallaganda State Forest, where logging continues despite the critical need to protect their habitats.     Removing these exemptions is essential to ensure that all logging activities undergo thorough environmental scrutiny, safeguarding endangered species and promoting sustainable forest management. 

What should the EPBC Act do?

The EPBC Act is tasked with environmental and heritage protection and the conservation and sustainable use of Australia’s natural resources.

Eucalypt forest in dry bed of Flaggy Creek, north of Coonabarabran, NSW
Eucalypt forest in dry bed of Flaggy Creek, north of Coonabarabran, NSW © WWF-Australia / Stuart Blanch
Aerial view of Hardy Reef, home to the Heart Reef, in the Great Barrier Reef

These images were taken on 20 June 2017 by a drone to assess if the Heart Reef has been bleached.
Aerial view of Hardy Reef, Great Barrier Reef © Christian Miller / WWF-Australia

The Act exists as a legal framework to balance the protection of our environment with society’s economic and social needs. Using this framework, the Australian Government can decide what requires listing for national protection, for example:

  • Assess whether a species or ecosystem has declined to the point where it requires protection.
  • Fulfill its international obligations, including protecting World Heritage Sites and Wetlands of International Importance, which conserve biodiversity (including habitat for migratory birds that may fly 13,000km to get there).

It also considers the impacts of any new developments and changes in land use, including destroying habitat for agricultural development, urban expansions and mining. The Act provides a framework for determining whether these projects should be approved based on an assessment of whether they constitute a significant impact on what the act protects.

What does the EPBC Act cover?

The EPBC Act currently covers nine matters of national environmental significance. These are:

  • World Heritage Sites i.e. Great Barrier Reef, Kakadu, Macquarie Island etc.
  • National Heritage Sites
  • Wetlands of International Importance
  • Nationally threatened species and ecological communities
  • Migratory species
  • Commonwealth marine areas
  • The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park
  • Nuclear actions
  • A water resource relating to coal seam gas development and large coal mining development

How many species are listed under the EPBC Act?

There are more than 1,900 species of plants, animals and ecological communities listed as threatened under the EPBC Act. This includes more than 550 species of wildlife. These species are categorised under Conservation Dependent, Vulnerable, Endangered, Critically Endangered, Extinct in the Wild and Extinct.

Some of Australia’s most iconic species are on the list, including koalas, black-flanked rock-wallabies and greater gliders. Rare birds like the regent honeyeater and swift parrot also appear on the list as they too are on the brink.

A black-flanked rock-wallaby joey safe in the hands of scientist Craig Pentland, Nangeen Hill.
A black-flanked rock-wallaby joey safe in the hands of scientist Craig Pentland, Nangeen Hill. © Hayden Cannon / DBCA / WWF-Australia
Critically endangered regent honeyeater on a branch, Quorrobolong NSW
Critically Endangered regent honeyeater on a branch, Quorrobolong NSW © Mick Roderick / BirdLife Australia

Is the EPBC Act working?

The EPBC Act has much potential, but it has not been realised. In the last 20 years since the laws passed, there have been countless reports of how the EPBC Act has failed to protect the environment.

For example, in the last two decades, more than 7.7 million hectares of threatened species habitat have been destroyed.

The law requires that any new projects that may impact Australia’s natural environment or heritage or involve Commonwealth land require approval from the federal, state or territory governments before proceeding. This includes mining and property development. Yet in NSW and Qld alone, more than 1 million hectares were cleared for agriculture without EPBC Act authorisation, showing how little compliance there is, despite the laws.

The Act also includes exemptions, like Regional Forest Agreements for the logging industry, that are supposed to provide equivalent protection but don’t, as the recent Australian Federal Court decision proved in the case of VicForests destroying critical habitat for greater gliders and Leadbeater’s possums.

On top of this, funding for the environment falls short of what is required to halt the decline of Australia’s environment. The environmental laws to protect Australia’s wildlife and our wild places are failing them. 

We need our local politicians to urge the federal government to improve the laws that are meant to protect our wildlife and the places they call home and adequately fund their protection and recovery. 

Case Study: The furry face of our failing nature laws

In 2023, a greater glider, an Endangered species, was found dead just 50 metres from a logging site in Tallaganda State Forest, leading to a stop work order and investigations. This devastating news highlighted the failures in identifying and protecting habitat for these Endangered species.  

A greater glider peaks his head out from a hollow in an old growth forest.
A greater glider peaks his head out from a hollow in an old growth forest. © Josh Bowell
Logging in Tallaganda State Forest
Logging in Tallaganda State Forest © Andrew Kaineder / WWF-Australia

To better protect greater gliders, it’s crucial to remove Regional Forestry Agreement exemptions, which currently allow logging to continue in critical habitats without sufficient environmental assessments.

Why is it so important now, more than ever, to strengthen our environmental laws?

Australia experienced one of its most catastrophic bushfire seasons in the country’s history. The bushfires during the summer of 2019-20 destroyed more than 12 million hectares of forest and bushland, and nearly 3 billion animals were killed or displaced. So much was lost, and the impacts are still being felt. 

Aerial of the Kangaroo Island bushfire aftermath in 2020
Aerial of the Kangaroo Island bushfire aftermath in 2020 © WWF-Australia / Sii Studio
A Tammar wallaby skull found in Lathami Conservation Park after bushfires swept through the area, Kangaroo Island, 2020
A Tammar wallaby skull found in Lathami Conservation Park after bushfires swept through the area, Kangaroo Island, 2020 © WWF-Aus / Paul Fahy

As our forests begin to recover, there has never been a more important time to ensure our environmental laws are strengthened so we can restore what’s been lost and protect what’s left.

Australia already has the worst rate of mammal extinction than any other country in the world. We’ve already lost three native species in the last 10 years, and the latest bushfire catastrophe has pushed many more to the brink and are at risk of disappearing forever.

What can we do to protect Australia’s threatened wildlife and their habitat?

Everyone has a part to play in ensuring Australia’s natural environment is protected for generations to come. Every action makes a huge difference.

Some things you can do to help:

  • Add your voice by sending a message to your local politician for stronger laws and better funding to protect and restore Australia’s threatened wildlife and special places.
  • Give a gift to help threatened wildlife, including the greater glider, survive and thrive.
  • Share stories! There are so many unique Australian wildlife and beautiful places that people might not know about but need protecting. By sharing stories and personal experiences of what nature means to you, you’re helping give a voice to those that have none.

Will you join the campaign and send a message to Australian senators calling for stronger nature laws to protect our vulnerable wildlife?

Together, we can regenerate nature and stop the extinction crisis.