Not surprisingly with some leading sections of industry ridiculing environmental regulation and the science that underpins it, some governments here and overseas have proposed or embarked upon a program of cutting so-called “Green Tape”. In the US some of the Republicans in Congress want to get rid of the EPA altogether. Here in Australia the states of New South Wales and Queensland have stripped the environmental agencies of their ‘EPA’ moniker, because it gave too much status to environmental protection within the bureaucracy and encouraged the presentation of frank and fearless advice on matters environmental which made governments uncomfortable.
Ignoring or downplaying the benefits of strong environmental legislation, including the economic dividends that come from a clean environment, healthy workforce, and sustainable resource management, a small but growing chorus of conservative critics (on both sides of the political fence) have slammed environmental protection agencies for being anti-business, killing jobs, and creating development log-jams. Their criticisms parallel closely in conservative quarters with the rise of anti-science thinking and the rather arrogant view that scientific evidence and concern can be dismissed simply by rejecting it. For a quarter of a century, I have been part of a movement that aims to build better environmental protection and awareness, and I will say always that regulation is not the end in itself. It is one tool in the broad spectrum of responses required for sustainable development. Community understanding and interest is far more important because that drives political accountability.
No agency of government is perfect and environmental policy and legislation needs to keep pace with the times and reflect the state of environment and community capacities for sustainability. Undoubtedly, there is scope to improve the administration of environmental matters in most jurisdictions. The Newman Government claims that its Green Tape reduction laws will save Queensland business $11.7m each year, and the State Government about $12.5 million in administrative costs.[xix] Some of that reflects regulatory inefficiency and it should be fixed! My concern would be to ensure that in doing away with some compliance requirements on the part of business, equal effort is made to maintain the good work that has been done over the previous quarter century reducing industrial contamination of the environment. In contemporary Australian government there should be no place for ideological crusades aimed at marginalising environmental governance and the role of relevant agencies.
10. Return of the hydro-illogical cycle reminds us that memory matters
Just recently we have elected a new LNP government here in Queensland, which not unlike other governments is seeking to claim its particular niche, partly by reversing many of the policies and practices of the previous Labor Government. Amidst a rash of cost-cutting measures aimed at reducing public debt and eliminating inefficiency in public expenditure, the Newman Government has also sighted the costly water grid infrastructure built by the Beattie and Bligh Governments to “drought proof”: south east Queensland. In recent weeks we have seen headlines in the Courier Mail like “Dormant plants to cost state millions” and “Water relief: LNP will turn the taps back on to boost revenues”[xx].