Australia's environment will suffer another decade of decline without a fundamental rewrite of laws to protect native wildlife and natural wonders, Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek has warned.
Ms Plibersek on Tuesday revealed the Albanese government will draft new environmental protection laws in 2023, after delivering a formal response to Graeme Samuel's scathing 2020 review of the EPBC Act before the end of this year.
But the new minister has played down the prospect of using the laws as a "trigger" to limit greenhouse gas emissions at new projects.
She is also sticking by Labor's 43 per cent 2030 emissions reduction target, despite the alarming findings of the latest five-yearly State of the Environment report.
Ms Plibersek appeared at the National Press Club on Tuesday following the release of the report.
She also announced a new goal of protecting 30 per cent of the nation's land and 30 per cent of its oceans by 2030, as well as plans to scope out new national parks and marine parks.
The report found Australian's environment was in poor and deteriorating condition as it struggles under the pressures of climate change, habitat loss, invasive species, mining and pollution.
It revealed a nation in the grips of a wildlife extinction crisis, which is set to worsen as the fallout to the 2019-20 Black Summer bushfires continues.
In her speech, Ms Plibersek warned that native animals and natural wonders might not be there for future generations if the trend of alarming environmental decline continues.
She also took aim at the former Coalition government and her predecessor Sussan Ley, who was handed the report last December but refused to release it before the May federal election.
"Sussan Ley received [the report] before Christmas, but chose to keep it hidden - locked away until after the federal election. When you read it, you'll know why," she said.
"But while it's a confronting read, Australians deserve the truth."
'They did nothing to fix it'
The findings prompted immediate calls for urgent action to reverse the decline, including strengthening federal environmental protection laws.
Almost two years have past since a Graeme Samuel-led review recommended a major overhaul of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
Labor went to the election promising a full response to the Samuel review - something the Coalition never provided - and has committed to setting up an independent environmental protection agency.
"The previous government was told, loud and clear, that Australian environmental laws were not working, and they did nothing to fix that," Ms Plibersek said on Tuesday.
"They tried to ram through a select few changes and instead delivered nothing. That's the situation I'm inheriting."
Ms Ley, who is now deputy Liberal leader, did not comment on the report.
It was left to the opposition's environment spokesman, Jonathon Duniam, to push back against Ms Plibersek's accusations and defend the former government's record.
"Tanya Plibersek needs to get on with her job as Federal Environment Minister, rather than engage in partisan finger-pointing and game-playing," Senator Duniam said.
Senator Duniam criticised Ms Plibersek for not spelling out Labor's position on fossil fuel projects or forestry.
Ms Plibersek said she wanted to consult widely on changes to strengthen environmental protection laws, which she said could also deliver economic benefits by speeding up decision-making process on projects.
"In my judgement - what our environment really needs is a changed system," she said.
"Without structural reform, we'll be resigning ourselves to another decade of failure; without the tools we need to arrest our decline."
Greens environment spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young used the report's release to urge the government to consider including a so-called "climate trigger" in the EPBC Act, which would require a project's emissions to be factored in during the assessment process.
Professor Samuel canvassed the idea during his review, but recommended against it.
Ms Plibersek said she wouldn't rule anything out so early in her tenure, but strongly hinted the government would fall in behind professor Samuel's position.
'A national crisis'
Environmental groups and ACT independent senator David Pocock were on Tuesday morning demanding immediate action in response to the damning State of the Environment report.
READ MORE STATE OF THE ENVIRONMENT COVERAGE
"To halt Australia's nature crisis we need strong national environment laws, an independent regulator to enforce them and adequate funding for the recovery of Australia's threatened species and the restoration of degraded landscapes," Australian Conservation Foundation chief executive Kelly O'Shanassy said.
ACT independent senator David Pocock, a passionate conservationist, described the environmental decline as a "national crisis".
"Responding to these findings will be a mammoth task but it is absolutely essential. We cannot delay any longer," Senator Pocock said.
"The time for reform to that [EPBC] legislation is now. The time for the Australian government to step up and protect the only environment we have, is now."