Little progress made by green tape approvals: audit

DESPITE years of commitments from all levels of government to reduce red and green tape in Australia, the level of regulatory complexity for development approvals has increased significantly in the past seven years for little demonstrable improvement in green outcomes, says URS.
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Max Pichon

An audit by environmental and economic consultants URS comparing approvals laws in 2006 and today shows there have been more than 120 changes to state and federal government approvals laws and supporting legislation.

The audit shows there have been six new pieces of legislation, six replacement acts and more than 60 sets of amendments to approvals laws.

There have been 50 sets of additions and amendments to subordinate legislation, regulations and codes of practice.

In December 2007, the Council of Australian Government's Business Regulation and Competition Working Group agreed to pursue a national approach to red and green tape with the objective of ensuring "no net increase in the regulatory burden".

Commenting on the findings Minerals Council of Australia CEO Mitch Hooke said: "It appears little progress has been made in pursuit of this goal.

"The changes identified in the URS audit have had a material impact on the time and cost of obtaining approvals in Australia without any related increase in environmental protection."

The audit shows that in many cases there has been an inability to specify the "problem" or market failure the regulatory changes were designed to redress.

It is despite a November 2007 COAG agreement that new regulations would only be introduced after government had established a "case for action".

"It is well past time that all levels of government got serious about their commitments to improve Australia's regulatory environment," Hooke said.

“This does not mean less scrutiny nor should it mean lower environmental standards, it means more efficient and effective oversight.

“It also means less words and more action from all levels of government.”

URS added: "The extent of regulatory ‘churn’ is highly destabilising for business.

“Further, the audit update also revealed that while there is a strong commitment to red/green tape reduction by governments, this has resulted in a plethora of review processes rather than efficiency reforms."

Other URS findings include that:

  • Mining is subject to more regulatory requirements than most, if not all, other economic activities
  • The creation of independent expert panels has the potential to undermine the confidence in existing approvals processes
  • Offices of best practice regulation become involved too late to have a significant influence on the development of policy initiatives and associated regulatory measures
  • The loss of capacity, capability and competency within government agencies has impacted adversely on the ability to make the right regulatory decision in a timely manner.

The audit concludes that "the approval processes have become more politicised and with a shorter-term focus since the 2006 audit and that this has increased uncertainty and compliance costs for industry, as well as the costs incurred by government agencies in administering the processes".