Speech introducing the Nature Repair Market Bill

29 March 2023

Mr Speaker, this government is determined to protect more of what’s precious, to repair more of what’s damaged, and to manage nature better for our kids and grandkids.

And today, as part of that mission, I am proud to be introducing this legislation to parliament.

This legislation establishes a new nature repair market in Australia – the first of its kind in the world.

It will encourage good environmental work – like replanting a stretch of koala habitat, or repairing a damaged riverbed, or removing invasive species from a fragile ecosystem.

It will make it easier for businesses, philanthropists and other Australians to invest in these activities that repair and protect nature.

And it will reward landholders for the work they do nurturing our environment.

That’s what this legislation is about: connecting people who want to invest in nature repair, with the people who can do that work on the ground.

And Mr Speaker – this is critical work.

It’s work we need to promote as a nation, in every state and territory.

In every corner of this vast country.

As the State of the Environment report made clear, Australia’s environment is in a bad way, and it’s getting worse.

We live in the extinction capital of the world – losing more mammals to extinction than any other continent.

These terrible extinctions have many causes.

But the biggest is habitat destruction.

When we knock down trees, or pollute a waterway, or experience a natural disaster.

And when we don’t step in to repair nature, or to replace the habitats we've lost.

That’s how we got into this position.

Where koalas are endangered across most of the east coast.

Where our beautiful beaches are eroding before our eyes.

Where our soil is losing its fertility, becoming more vulnerable to drought, and simply blowing away with the wind.

And where fish are literally choking to death in our rivers, because they don’t have enough oxygen to survive underwater.

When you look at these trends, when you look at the state of our environment, it’s clear that we need to do more than just protect nature from future harm.

We need to start restoring places that have been damaged in the past.

We need to start healing the land and the water.

And that’s what this legislation is designed to do.

Not to replace government effort – but to reinforce it.

To add private money to the stream of investment our government is already making in nature protection and restoration.

In December last year, I released our government’s Nature Positive Plan.

At the heart of these changes was a shift in ambition.

For almost 250 years, ever since Europeans colonised Australia, we’ve been running down our environment.

And when we’ve tried to do something about it, when we’ve attempted environmental policy, we’ve only ever sought to slow the pace of this decline.

But the point of our plan, the point of being nature positive, is to reverse this trend.

To stop the march of environmental destruction – and to go further.

To begin the process of repairing nature.

To start restoring damaged ecosystems.

And to genuinely leave Australia in a better state than it is now.

If we’re serious about this goal, as our government is, a big part of our work has to be on private land.

Because more than 60% of this country is privately held.

And of that land, a majority is owned by farmers and First Nations.

That’s where a large percentage of the critical habitats exist.

That’s where some of our most endangered animals live.

Which means we cannot restrict our conservation efforts to national parks, or other places of sanctuary.

We need to encourage nature repair everywhere.

And that is what this bill will do.

The purpose of this legislation is to establish the machinery needed for a nature repair market – the register, the rules and the regulator.

This market will apply to projects that enhance or protect existing environments, as well as projects that establish or restore habitats.

These projects can be on land, in our lakes and rivers, or in marine and coastal environments.

And it will be open to all landholders:

Farmers, First Nations, conservation groups, businesses, local councils – all will be eligible.

Under the scheme, when a landholder conducts a project to repair or protect nature, they will be issued with a tradeable certificate.

This certificate will provide a range of standardised information – such as the size of land repaired, the kind of work conducted, the threatened species protected, and the length of time actions will continue.

This will help buyers understand what they’re investing in – and allow them to compare and value projects.

Once projects are approved by the regulator, these certificates can then be sold on to a third party – like a philanthropist, a business, a government or an individual.

This will give the landholders extra income.

It will help companies demonstrate their environmental credentials.

It will help philanthropists achieve their social mission.

And most importantly, it will protect and repair Australia’s environment.

These certificates will be tracked via a public register.

This register will be open and transparent – helping buyers show their shareholders and customers exactly how they’re supporting nature repair.

And a regulator will ensure that projects are being implemented according to the rules, and that the register accurately describes what is happening on the ground.

The nature repair market will encourage all kinds of good work.

Work that landholders already want to do, but don’t have the funds to complete.

Like helping a farming family, who want to remove invasive plants and manage feral animals on their land – so they can better protect a stretch of native forest where endangered greater gliders live.

Or a group of Indigenous Land and Sea Rangers, who want to control feral species across a coastal floodplain – to protect sea turtles, migratory birds, and to improve water quality for fish and crabs.

Or another farmer, who wants to replant native grasses and trees on an unproductive stretch of land – to make the area more resilient to drought and salinity.

Or a group of fishers, who want to regrow a meadow of seagrass that was previously killed by poor water quality – so they can provide a habitat for dugongs, turtles and seahorses.

The nature repair market will cover a broad spectrum of restoration.

And it will reward people involved in it.

Money for farmers.

Jobs for First Nations communities.

And homes for native animals and plants.

That’s what this legislation is designed to promote.

Because there’s no shortage of repair work that needs to be done.

And the scheme is flexible enough to mean that landholders can do whatever environmental work is needed in their area.

Like supporting the east coast koala population.

Or reviving critical nature corridors – where animals travel for food and water, or for shelter, or to avoid bushfires.

Or replanting hillside vegetation – to stop erosion and to protect the local soil.

These projects will look different in different places, depending on local needs.

And the nature market will work alongside carbon credits.

It will help ensure that, when we plant new trees, we’re not just establishing an endless monoculture, relying on a single species.

But that we’re supporting a rich spectrum of biodiversity; of plants and animals and ecosystems; and that we’re planting the right trees in the right places.

We know that organisations are looking to support these kinds of projects.

And they’re looking to Australia as a destination.

They understand that Australia is a megadiverse continent – with plants and animals found nowhere else on earth.

And they recognise we’re one of the most important sites in the global fight to protect biodiversity.

When I talk to businesses and philanthropic groups, they tell me that they want to support this kind of work.

It’s what their employees are asking of them.

It’s what customers are looking for.

And it’s what shareholders are demanding.

Shareholders want to know that they’re investing in socially responsible enterprises.

In fact, these investments are already happening in small ways.

But they’re happening without an institutional framework to support them.

Which makes the whole process far more cumbersome, risky, and ineffective than it should be.

Making these investments impossible for most businesses and landholders.

This legislation will solve two major problems with the status quo – making it much easier to invest in nature repair and protection.

Firstly, it will connect people wanting to fund this work with landholders who are capable of doing it.

Currently, if an organisation wants to support environmental restoration, they have to either buy the land themselves, or find a willing landholder to enter into a custom management agreement.

This is frustrating for everyone involved.

Companies are not usually in the business of environmental management.

They shouldn’t have to own land in order to protect it.

And we wouldn’t want them to.

Because no one knows their land better than the farmers and First Nations who steward it.

And these landholders don’t want to sell their land, or initiate complex legal arrangements.

When this scheme begins, investors will be able to find projects they want to support, without having to purchase their own plot of land, and without having to design their own agreements.

And both parties can enter into the arrangement with the confidence of a legal framework behind them.

Which leads to the second problem this legislation will answer – which is the question of trust and integrity.

Currently, organisations and conservationists are understandably nervous about investments in nature repair.

How do they know these projects are really delivering what they advertise?

Without a legal framework – without a national regulator to enforce the rules and ensure compliance – there’s a greater risk that business and the public will fall victim to greenwashing.

That the promised project will look different to what’s happening on the ground.

This Bill will introduce necessary oversight and assurance.

It will enable the Clean Energy Regulator, an independent statutory authority, to certify biodiversity certificates.

The regulator will monitor and publish landholder reports on the delivery of these projects, including the progress being made towards the environmental outcomes.

And the regulator will also have enforcement powers – to ensure that projects are following the rules.

The scheme will be built on transparency.

The regulator will publish information on projects and the ownership and use of certificates.

It will actively release relevant data.

Which will allow parliament and citizens to scrutinise the scheme.

And we welcome that scrutiny.

I acknowledge the recent review of carbon crediting led by Professor Ian Chubb.

Like the Minister for Climate Change and Energy, I’m committed to learning the lessons of that review, and those lessons will shape this market as it develops.

Nature markets – like all markets – need to be properly regulated, and this is challenging because environmental outcomes aren’t something consumers can touch or taste.

But just because something is difficult, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it.

It means we should do it properly.

And that is what we are doing with this legislation.

Because we need every tool available to us if we want to build a nature positive Australia.

If we want to leave this country in a better place for our kids and grandkids.

We need effective national laws.

We need active government investment.

And yes, we need the support of private money and philanthropists.

Our government welcomes that support.

This scheme will bring more money into nature repair.

And it will guarantee that money is doing what it’s intended to do –

Restoring habitats, improving our soil, helping threatened species, protecting our beaches, and making our land more resilient to droughts and floods.

I commend this bill to the House.