Thursday, 19 October 2017
Select Committee on Red Tape; Report
Yesterday I attempted to speak to the third interim report of the Select Committee on Red Tape on environmental regulation; however, due to repeated interruptions, political stunts and senators talking, I was unable to complete my contribution. Accordingly, I wish to continue my remarks today and trust that this time other senators will allow me to complete them without disruption.
Rather than being a dry subject that causes some senators to doze off, chat in the back row or throw paper planes at each other, environmental regulation should be an issue of concern to everyone here, as the actual and opportunity costs to the nation run into many hundreds of millions of dollars in lost or delayed investment. This means lost or delayed employment opportunities for our fellow Australians. As an example, the Roy Hill Iron ore project in the Pilbara required more than 4,000 licences, approvals and permits for its preconstruction phase, delaying the project needlessly. Likewise, the Adani Carmichael mine in Central Queensland spent seven years in an approvals process, fighting more than 10 legal challenges and having to prepare a 22,000-page environmental impact statement. The IPA estimates that antidevelopment activism has caused delay and disruption valued at more than $1.2 billion over the past 17 years, and some projects never go ahead due to heightened risk of legal challenges and higher capital costs.
Many of the recommendations of the committee concern aspects of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, including provisions that duplicate state laws. The committee recommends the Australian government expedite its review of this act, as required under section 522A, by bringing it forward to 2018. The Productivity Commission and the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee have both supported the establishment of a one-stop shop for assessment of projects to enable compliance with environmental regulations without duplication. This is something the red tape committee strongly supports.
In terms of meeting environmental expectations, the committee recommends the adoption of a risk based approach to environmental assessments. This is in line with the views of the Minerals Council; COAG, which previously agreed to explore adopting trusted international standards in risk assessment; the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority; and the processes of the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority. The committee concluded that the broader adoption of a risk based approach offers a real opportunity to reduce unnecessary, expensive and burdensome red tape.
The committee also found that section 487 of the EPBC Act is clearly being misused by environmental activists. Given that other legislative and judicial processes already provide an avenue for legitimate appeal at the state and territory level, the committee recommends the government repeal this. The committee further heard a range of concerns relating to the adverse effect of native title regulations on project developments and the manipulation of land councils by environmental activists, and the causal impact of this on the impoverishment of Aboriginal people. Accordingly, as a means to both materially assist Aboriginal development and economic development more broadly, the committee recommends the government amend the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act to remove the ability of land councils to arbitrarily veto applications for exploration and/or mining licences.
To overcome landholder objections to mining, which have paralysed the exploitation of coal seam gas, the committee urges Commonwealth, state and territory governments to consider statutory royalty systems for the benefit of land owners. In response to concerns that the problem of environmental overregulation is even worse for leasehold properties than freehold, and this is an issue particularly in Western Australia, the committee recommends that state and territory governments identify opportunities to convert leasehold title to freehold title. The committee also recommended that regulatory oversight of activities on leasehold land be eased to put it on the same basis as freehold.
Throughout the inquiry, the committee heard again and again that environmental red tape is excessive and that, thanks to this, project approval processes are a bureaucratic nightmare. Ironically, the origin of the term 'red tape' is generally attributed to the 16th-century administrative system of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, which used red tape for priority documents which required immediate action. Given that red tape is now pernicious, corrosive and difficult to eradicate, it seems highly appropriate that Charles V is more notable for his army's spreading syphilis across Europe and thence to the rest of the world. In its efforts to cure the Australian economy of its own administrative social disease, the Red Tape Committee, not to mince words, seeks to beat the clap out of environmental overregulation. Like its venereal legacy of the great pox, the red-tape legacy of Emperor Charles V lives on in our own time and continues to be spread through the incautious infatuations of his Australian political successors.
I commend the interim report of the Select Committee on Red Tape to the Senate in the hope that whichever of the legacies of the Holy Roman Emperor that senators may have injudiciously embraced, the committee's recommendations will prove prophylactic. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.