Environment Report Streamlining Legislation - Speech in Parliament

I rise to speak to the report of the Standing Committee on the Environment, Streamlining environmental legislation: inquiry into streamlining environmental regulation, 'green tape', and one stop shops. I start by thanking the chair of the committee, the deputy chair and indeed the secretariat for their hard work over the course of this inquiry. I also acknowledge all of those who made submissions and gave evidence before the inquiry.In speaking to this report, I want to make clear the reason Labor members of the committee felt compelled to author the dissenting report, which forms part of the report I am now addressing. This is due to the report of the majority not fairly reflecting the divergent submissions presented in the course of the inquiry in two critical respects. Firstly, and at a general level, it does not reflect a due appreciation of the value of the environment to the Australian community today and, importantly, into the future. Secondly, and more specifically, on any fair reading of the evidence presented in the course of the inquiry, the case for the one-stop shop has simply not been made out, so we reject paragraph 4.70.

Labor members believe that any changes to environmental regulation that simplify assessment processes, reduce time and costs and create uniformity across all jurisdictions should always be balanced against the importance of maintaining sound environmental protections. It is this concern that has not been satisfied in relation to that proposal. While the report makes a positive mention of the balance between environmental and regulatory concerns, it evidences no consideration of potential benefits arising from delaying projects—for example, to delay the proper and thorough consideration of applications that may cause permanent harm to matters of national environmental significance. I note that there has already been a report into so-called green tape, which found no empirical evidence to support the argument that Commonwealth involvement has been impeding environmental assessment. In our view, nothing has changed since that report.

As mentioned in the dissenting report, the OECD released a very important report of its own in December last year entitled Do environmental policies matter for productivity growth? This report makes for compelling reading. This report found:

… the strictness of environmental policies has "increased significantly" in all the countries—

all OECD countries—

over the past two decades. But that increased stringency has not harmed productivity growth or productivity levels. In fact, new green regulations "may translate into a permanent increase in productivity levels in some industries."

The OECD further found:

… new regulations have pushed firms to operate more efficiently than would otherwise have been case - the green tape has encouraged innovation and investment that has allowed firms to do things better. The improvements triggered by stricter environmental rules have more than offset the costs.

In other words, green tape is not necessarily detrimental to productivity if the regulations are well-designed.

That is, if:

stringent environmental policies can be implemented while promoting strong competition.

The report stated that market-based environmental policies, like the one this government dumped last year, 'tend to have a more robust positive effect on productivity growth'. I would urge members to consider this report in having regard to the matters traversed in the report we are discussing today.

In concluding my very brief remarks on the report before us, I acknowledge that it contains many valuable recommendations, but Labor members are seriously concerned that, in key respects, the majority report prefers ideology to evidence, and this places our precious natural environment at risk. We cannot support such a recommendation.

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