Updated: Nov 11, 2022
Tanya Plibersek is the Minister for the Environment and Water under the Albanese Labor Government. Soon after the 2022 Federal Election, Ms. Plibersek addressed the National Press Club regarding the 2021 State of the Environment report, which she claimed had been "hidden" by former Environment Minister, Sussan Ley. Ms. Plibersek has also announced a variety of environmental and conservation initiatives in 2022.
Funding to Combat Ghost Nets
In October 2022, Ms. Plibersek announced a $3 million grant program to address ghost fishing nets, abandoned marine debris which can weight up to 10 tonnes and stretch up to a kilometre long.
The program is intended to develop projects which either help detect or remove ghost nets and other marine debris from Australia's coast lines with grants of between $30,000 to $400,000 scheduled to become available from 2023. The funding is part of a wider initiative to address Ghost Nets totalling nearly $15 million.
Funding for Restoration of Frog Populations
In October of this year, Ms. Plibersek, alongside Victorian Minister for the Environment and Climate Action, Lily D’Ambrosio, opened what has been described as a world-leading frog breeding facility at Melbourne Zoo, the Amphibian Bushfire Recovery Centre.
The centre is intended to assist in restoring populations of the Southern Giant Burrowing Frog, the Spotted Tree Frog and Watson’s Tree Frog, each of which are listed as either vulnerable or critically endangered. These frog species have seen significant losses in population in recent years, worsened by the Black Summer bushfires in 2019-2020.
The opening of the facility is part of the Federal Labor Government's $200 million recovery package to support the recovery of bushfire affected areas.
Threatened Species Action Plan
The "Threatened Species Action Plan" is intended to prevent the further extinction of Australia's native wildlife over the next 10 years. The plan also adds a further 10 threatened species to the 100 priority species list and commits to protecting and conserving more than 30% of Australia's land mass. $224.5 million will be spent on the Saving Native Species Program towards boosting outcomes for Australia's wildlife.
In a press release Ms. Plibersek highlighted the new species added to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and criticised the former government for their handling of environmental policy:
"Many of these species were very badly affected by the recent Black Summer Bushfires. These listings show us that the previous approach has not been working. The previous government had their head in the sand about the crisis in our environment."
Rachel Lowry, the chief conservation officer at WWF-Australia, was pleased with elements of the plan but also voiced concern regarding how species were being prioritised:
“Australia has more than 1,900 listed threatened species. This plan picks 110 winners...Costed and time-bound recovery plans are essential for all threatened species. Otherwise we will see more native animals silently crossing the extinction line.”
Nature Program Manager at the Australian Conservation Foundation, Basha Stasak, noted that more funding would be required to adequately address Australia's extinction crisis:
“Scientists estimate $1.69bn a year is needed to tackle Australia’s extinction crisis...We urge the government to include funding to halt extinction in this month’s federal budget.”
'State of the Environment' Address to the National Press Club
On the 19th of July 2022, Environment Minister, Tanya Plibersek, addressed the National Press Club regarding the 2021 State of the Environment Report. During her address, Ms. Plibersek referenced former Environment Minister, Sussan Ley, for choosing to keep the State of the Environment Report "hidden" and "locked away until after the federal election." Ms. Plibersek suggested that having read the report, one would know why it's release was delayed.
The minister addressed the state of plastic pollution revealed in the report, quoting significant levels of plastic seen in capital cities' coastlines and the harm caused to wildlife:
"In Perth, scientists have found up to 60,000 pieces of plastic per square kilometre of water. In Brisbane, they found between 40,000 and 80,000. And at the top end, in the Torres Strait and Timor Sea, abandoned fishing gear has been killing marine animals on an industrial scale. These underwater hurricanes of debris are known as ‘ghost nets’ – and they’re strangling up to 14,000 turtles a year."
Ms. Plibersek also noted Australia's levels of deforestation and how the vast majority of this land clearing was not assessed by the government:
"Australia is one of the world’s deforestation hotspots. Between the year 2000 and 2017, Australia cleared over 7.7 million hectares of threatened species habitat across the country. That’s an area bigger than Tasmania. Much of this clearing occurred in small increments. More than 90 per cent of it was never assessed under our environmental laws."
This figure was highlighted in a 2019 journal article for The Society of Conservation Biology, which also noted that 84% of Australian species suffered habitat loss, with koalas losing roughly 1 million hectares of potential habitat.
Blue Carbon Project Funding & Recipients
Ms. Plibersek, announced on the 30th of June 2022 that the government will invest nearly $10 Million into five new domestic blue carbon projects. The intention of these projects is to restore mangroves, salt marshes and sea grasses across Australian coastal regions towards increasing carbon sequestration and marine biodiversity while also mitigating potential flooding.
The announcement followed Ms. Plibersek addressing delegates at the UN Ocean Conference in Portugal earlier in the week. During her speech, Ms. Plibersek highlighted the importance of coastal ecosystems in the fight against climate change and noted intentions to support Pacific partners with similar projects:
"Under the new Australian government, the environment is back – front and centre."
The five recipients for the restoration projects and their locations and funding amounts are listed below:
Blue Carbon Wetland Restoration Project
Location: Sunshine Coast Regional Council and Partners (Sunshine Coast, Queensland)
Restoration of former farming land to coastal wetlands with benefits for carbon sequestration, biodiversity, flood mitigation, recreation and First Nations engagement.
Mungalla Blue Carbon Project
Location: Greening Australia (Ingham, Queensland)
Tidal restoration of former cattle grazing property with benefits for Indigenous heritage, ecotourism, Great Barrier Reef water quality, and bird and marine biodiversity
Gulf St Vincent Seagrass Restoration Project
Location: The University of Adelaide (Port Gawler, South Australia)
Seagrass restoration project with benefits for marine biodiversity, sediment stabilisation, shoreline protection and nutrient processing.
Demonstrating Outcomes of Blue Carbon Ecosystem Restoration of Temperate Saltmarsh
Location: Southern Regional Natural Resource Management (Pitt Water-Orielton Lagoon, Tasmania)
Cool climate tidal marsh restoration with benefits for coastal resilience, biodiversity, recreational fisheries and tourism.
South Australian Blue Carbon Ecosystem Restoration Project
Location: The Nature Conservancy Australia and Partners (Upper Gulf St Vincent, South Australia) Tidal marsh restoration with benefits for biodiversity, social and cultural values.