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The election and the environment: What happens next?

By Peter Briggs, Partner, Melanie Debenham, Partner, Heidi Asten, Partner and Kathryn Pacey, Partner, Herbert Smith Freehills

The recent Australian Federal election has resulted in a change of government. While the votes continue to be counted and the final constitution of our Parliament is not yet certain, it appears that Labor will have a majority in the Lower House, and the Greens will have control of the Senate.

This means that there will be pressure on the Government to deliver a stronger response on issues including climate change, environmental protection and integrity. Former Shadow Minister for the Environment and Water, Terri Butler, has not been returned to Parliament as Greens candidate Max Chandler-Mather has won the seat of Griffith, so it remains to be confirmed who will be responsible for delivering on some of these important matters.

While the government is settling in, our Environment, Planning and Communities partners set out their top 5 predictions for coming change on environmental matters, and where the priorities should lie.

  1. Net Zero by 2050, with a stronger 2030 target

Prior to COP26, Australia had already committed to a 2050 Net Zero target, however the path to Net Zero varied between the major parties, particularly with respect to interim targets. Labor went to the polls with a target of reducing Australia’s emissions by 43 per cent by 2030, and the Greens campaigned for Net Zero by 2035. We expect these targets will be the focus of negotiations between Labor, the Greens and the Independents.

Labor has also committed that the Australian Public Service would achieve Net Zero by 2030, with some exceptions (eg, Defence).

  1. A tighter safeguard mechanism and the integrity of carbon offsets reviewed

Labor has committed to reviewing the Safeguard Mechanism, which applies to about 212 companies that emit more than 100,000t of Scope 1 greenhouse gas emissions per year. The changes include revised baselines for each facility, including tradeable credits for companies that stay below their baselines. The changes will increase pressure on decarbonisation or for the supply of carbon offsets over time.

In addition, Labor committed to undertaking an independent review of Australia’s carbon credit system, following criticism of the integrity of the scheme and the effectiveness of the scheme in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Carbon credits will be critical for Net Zero commitments and for the operation of the Safeguard Mechanism and any review should be undertaken quickly and decisively to ensure the integrity of the system.

  1. Transmission, renewables, critical minerals, EVs and batteries

Labor has committed to a $20 billion investment in transmission infrastructure to support a 2030 renewables target of 82 per cent in the main grid, along with investments in green steel and aluminium, community batteries, incentives for electric vehicles (EVs) and a national battery strategy. Support for the development of onshore processing for critical minerals is also provided through the National Reconstruction Fund and the Value-Adding in Resources Fund

  1. The long-awaited review of the EPBC Act and a new environmental regulator

Anyone who interacts with the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) knows that reform is needed. As the previous Environment Minister, Sussan Ley, said when discussing Samuel Review ‘nobody loves the EPBC Act’.

The EPBC Act is a critical piece of legislation for protection of the environment, and whether and how a review of the EPBC Act is undertaken will have implications for all of the issues that we have identified above. Issues like regional assessments, providing for certainty for project approvals, managing approvals processes and timeframes (especially for renewables and critical minerals), ensuring First Nations involvement in decision making and providing a robust compliance and enforcement regime will all be important factors to be addressed in any legislative review.

Labor has committed to establishing an independent environmental regulator, which will need to be supported by clear and objective criteria in order to provide predictability and certainty to project proponents and stakeholders. Labor has indicated that the proposed national Environment Protection Agency would have two divisions:

  • a compliance and assurance divisions
  • an environmental data, information and analysis division.

The indication is that consultation will occur on the funding model for the Environment Protection Agency.

  1. Increased species protection

Environmental matters clearly go beyond the limited focus of the EPBC Act.

In addition to the EPBC Act review, Labor committed to funding its ‘Saving Native Species Program’ to put in place species recovery plans and to work with States and Territories on a national conservation strategy. Labor has also committed to a number of programs that are designed to benefit biodiversity, including funding programs for the Great Barrier Reef, the establishment of a National Water Commission and measures for the Murray-Darling Basin, as well as increasing First Nations involvement in decision making.

What this means for you

Regardless of the final result, it is clear that the new Government will be under pressure to deliver on climate targets, biodiversity protection and environmental reform.

Ultimately, an increase in renewables, critical minerals production and processing will require reform to occur in a way that encourages appropriate development and investment certainty, while also providing clear environmental protection objectives and criteria. We expect that this is most sensibly achieved by strategic planning, cooperating with State and Territory governments, and obtaining genuine buy in from industry, environmental groups and landowner representatives.

There is no doubt that this will be an active space for the next few years.

Peter Briggs can be contacted on (02) 9225 5155 or by email at, Melanie Debenham can be contacted on (08) 9211 7560 or by email at, Heidi Asten can be contacted on (03) 9288 1710 or by email at and Kathryn Pacey, can be contacted on (07) 3258 6788 or by email at


Material published in Governance Directions is copyright and may not be reproduced without permission. The views expressed therein are those of the author and not of Governance Institute of Australia. All views and opinions are provided as general commentary only and should not be relied upon in place of specific accounting, legal or other professional advice.

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