The high costs of environmental regulation – and of Labor’s rejection of potential savings through streamlining – have been highlighted in Senate Estimates hearings, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment Simon Birmingham said today.
Under questioning from Senator Birmingham, officials at the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities have detailed that:
  • administration of Australia’s existing principal national environmental protection legislation – the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 or EPBC Act – is costing taxpayers alone $32 million, and requires 210 staff, this financial year 2012-13
  • administration of the existing EPBC Act requires 210 staff
  • changes to the existing EPBC Act to add a new environmental test – to be given effect by the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment Bill 2013 – will cost $38.5 million over the forward estimates, with ongoing costs of about $10 million a year
  • the same changes will require an additional 43 staff this year, rising in coming years to 50
Meanwhile, the Department confirmed that legislative reforms to adopt recommendations of the independent Hawke review of the EPBC Act, including those to streamline operation of the Act, have been indefinitely deferred by the Government.
“The costs outlined by departmental officials relate only to the burden on taxpayers and are before even taking into account the cost to business in complying with regulatory requirements,” Senator Birmingham said today.
“The EPBC Act is an important piece of legislation but its cost serves to highlight the importance of pursuing efficiencies wherever possible, without compromising environmental standards.
“Unless streamlined arrangements with states can be pursued, taxpayers face a long-term need to maintain a dedicated federal bureaucracy in excess of 250 staff at a cost of more than $40 million a year, as well as extensive duplication at a state level.
“Unlike the Government, which has abandoned any pursuit of opportunities to streamline regulation and reduce ‘green tape’, the Coalition is committed to a one-stop-shop model providing savings to taxpayers as well as more efficient approvals processes.”