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Chapter 4 - Efficiency

Key points

The EPBC Act is duplicative, inefficient and costly for the environment, business and the community.

The interaction between Commonwealth and state and territory laws and regulations leads to duplication. Despite efforts to streamline, significant overlap remains.

Past attempts to devolve decision-making have been unsuccessful due to lack of defined outcomes and concerns that decisions would be inconsistent with the national interest.

The key reform directions proposed by the Review to remove duplication between the EPBC Act and state and territory systems are:

  • devolve decisions to other jurisdictions, where they demonstrate National Environmental Standards can be met
  • to base devolution on sound accreditation, quality assurance and compliance, escalation (including step-in capability) and regular review.

The reform directions proposed (National Environmental Standards, regional plans, information and data, modern regulatory systems) provide confidence for devolution, and will improve interoperability between the Commonwealth and jurisdictions.

Even with greater devolution, the Commonwealth is likely to have an ongoing role in directly assessing and approving some developments. Therefore, it is also important to address inefficiencies in Commonwealth-led project assessment and approval processes.

There is duplication with other Commonwealth regulations, and some activities are effectively regulated by others. The interplay between regulations is often more onerous than it needs to be.

The laws for permitting wildlife trade exceed international obligations, are inflexible and unnecessarily burdensome.

Proposed key reform directions to further streamline the EPBC Act are:

  • Assessment pathways should be rationalised and implemented with clear guidance, modern systems and appropriate cost recovery. Small investments can dramatically reduce cost and uncertainty and improve decision-making.
  • These, and other reform directions proposed (National Environmental Standards, regional plans, information and data, modern regulatory systems) create opportunities for significant streamlining and efficiency, including where low risk actions will not require approval.
  • Streamline provisions for permitting of wildlife trade and interactions with other environmental frameworks.

Australians reasonably expect regulation that protects the environment in the national interest. The way the EPBC Act operates does not effectively protect the environment in the national interest (see Chapter 1), and there is a high degree of mistrust in the community (see Chapter 5).

It is reasonable for industry to expect governments to regulate efficiently and, wherever possible, harmonise regulation and ensure its interoperability. This reduces the costs of regulation to businesses that must comply with the law, and governments who administer it. The Review does not support suggested expansions to the remit of EPBC Act that intersect with state and territory responsibilities or other Commonwealth regulation (see Chapter 1).

4.1 - There is duplication with state and territory regulation

Efforts to harmonise and streamline with the states and territories have not gone far enough. Duplication with state and territory regulation remains. Approval bilateral agreements have never been implemented. The water trigger and IESC are proposed to be retained but modified. The Commonwealth’s role in nuclear actions is proposed to be retained but streamlined.

4.2 - Proposed key reform directions

Pursuing greater devolution does not mean that the Commonwealth 'gets out of the business' of environmental protection and biodiversity conservation. A devolution model is proposed, based on National Environmental Standards and national and regional plans, to provide confidence and assurance that devolution will not compromise the national interest.

4.3 - Commonwealth-led assessment processes are inefficient

Commonwealth-led assessments and approvals are complex and inefficient and could be further streamlined. The regulation of international wildlife trade is inflexible, burdensome, and exceed international obligations. The interactions with other Commonwealth environmental management laws, including those regulating fisheries, forestry, offshore petroleum and nuclear safety, are often more onerous than they need to be.

4.4 - Proposed key reform directions

The Commonwealth should retain its capability to assess and approve projects and intervene where other regulators fall short. The reform directions proposed include clarifying requirements through National Environmental Standards and national and regional plans, rationalising assessment pathways, and improving data, information and regulatory systems.