30 July, 2013

Cutting Red Tape for the sake of cutting Red Tape

Earlier this year the Office of Best Practice Regulation (OBPR) delivered its final report, Measuring and Reducing the Burden of Red Tape, which aimed to identify key priority areas and a structure for achieving regulatory reform in Qld.

The OBPR was set up by the Qld Government soon after the State election to drive regulatory reform.

Key functions of the OBPR are:

·       Assessing the adequacy of proposed regulation using the Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) System.
·   Communicating with government agencies and providing advice on how to ensure that regulatory approaches minimise the burden of regulation.
·     Undertaking reviews of policies and regulations that create a burden for business, government, and the community. The first step in this process involves reporting to Government on a framework for  reducing the burden of regulation
·     Implementing a permanent mechanism for businesses and community organisations to raise issues in relation to any regulatory matters. any regulatory matters

The Qld Government's Response to the OBPR's Final Report on Measuring and Reducing the Burden of Red Tape and Regulation can be found at -http://www.qca.org.au/Obpr/rbr/

The Qld Government has supported, either in full or in part, 98% of the recommendations in the OBPR’s Final Report. The Response provided a framework for achieving the Qld Government’s arbitrary target of reducing red tape by 20%.

The Qld Government appears to be cutting Red Tape for the sake of cutting Red Tape.  In doing so, decision making is being centralised into the Department of State Development and Infrastructure Planning in a way that we have not seen since the early 1980's. 

As part of these reforms, Ministers and Directors-General have been allocated red tape reduction targets for their portfolios.

The Qld Government has begun progressing more than 400 red tape reduction initiatives.  250 of them have been completed. This ranges from major legislative reforms to specific administrative arrangements.

The Qld Government has attempted to reduce costs in domestic dwellings, by removing the requirement for rainwater tanks, six-star energy ratings and electric hot water systems on new homes.

The Qld Government claims to be streamlining the development approvals process, predominantly through changes to elements of planning legislation:

·       The Sustainable Planning and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2012 (SPOLA Act) and the State Assessment and Referral Agency (SARA)
·       Changes to the local infrastructure contributions framework.

One of the first initiatives was the removal the waste levy, in order to save businesses millions of dollars a year in reduced paperwork and compliance costs. However, removal of the waste levee, also led to the loss of the associated waste reduction programs and has led to an influx of waste from interstate.

The Qld Government claims streamlining the approvals process for all Environmentally Relevant Activities (ERA) has saved affected businesses on average $20,000 in application costs, 150 pages of paperwork and 68 days of processing time.

Standard environmental authority applications for certain lower-risk activities are subject to simpler eligibility criteria and standard conditions.  EHP has released the proposed eligibility criteria and standard conditions for 19 prescribed ERAs—including screening, small sewage treatment plants & meat processing—for public consultation.

Standard conditions include performance and outcome based criteria.  For example and put in brief these conditions include:

·     The site must have written procedure/s that:
·       Identifies potential risk during operations and emergencies
·       Establishes control measures to minimise environmental harm
·       Trains staff and reviews performance
·       The site must not cause environmental nuisance at sensitive places (e.g. complaints from neighbours on odour, dust and noise)
·       Noise control includes no auditable noise from 7 pm to 7 am except Sundays from 7 pm to 8 am on to sensitive places such as dwellings, hotels or residential places, schools, hospitals or medical centers.
·       Store all chemicals >15 L in bunds
·       Manage stormwater to prevent or minimise environmental impacts
·       Implement sediment and erosion control measures
·       Store or remove wastewater if soil conditions or wet weather prevent release
·       On site closure the site be rehabilitated and not discharge contamination to waters and the land is safe for fauna and humans

These default conditions are likely to form the basis for the site-specific application.  While simple some can be considered quite strict and should be carefully reviewed. 

Companies looking to operate in Queensland will be facing the new criteria which is generally outcome focused and less concerning on the processes used to achieve these environmental outcomes.

Refer to the Consultation information sheet for further information on preparing your submission.  Submissions close 19 August 2013.

The Government claims that vegetation management reforms give landholders more control over their land and ensure primary producers can get on with growing their businesses without being hindered by unnecessary bureaucracy. 

In 2006, clearing of remnant vegetation to create pastures for agriculture was the principal activity that was stopped and which previously accounted for the vast majority of land clearing.

The high rates of land clearing and habitat fragmentation prior to 2006 in Australia, particularly in Qld, have been identified in State of the Environment reports as the single most significant threat to terrestrial biodiversity in Australia and Qld. For example, the State of the Environment Queensland 1999 reported:

The factor contributing most to the loss of biodiversity in Queensland has been and continues to be the destruction of native habitat by broadscale land clearing. Immediate effects on biodiversity include the removal or killing of species, the most obvious being plants, and the rapid reduction in habitat for other species. Habitat loss is a major factor in loss of woodland bird diversity in Australia: it has been estimated that 1000–2000 birds die for every 100 ha of native bushland cleared

Broadscale land clearing not only reduces the extent and diversity of natural ecosystems but also fragments them into remnant patches that, in many cases, are too small and too isolated to maintain viable populations of species.

Fundamentally, the objective is to change the culture of Government to one that actively reduces red tape, as well as addressing the systemic causes of over-regulation.  It remains to be seen if the pendulum swings too far towards politicized processes or an over-reliance on self regulation

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