IPA report: environmental laws increase 80-fold since 1971

The Weekend Australian today reported on the IPA’s recent report into the growth of federal environmental laws since 1971:

In 1971, when the McMahon Liberal government introduced the first commonwealth environment laws under the new Department of Environment, Aborigines and the Arts, they ­covered just 57 pages of legislation and regulation.

Last year, federal environmental laws stretched to 4,669 pages… after peaking at 5,004 pages in 2014 just after the Coalition ousted the Rudd-Gillard Labor government.

According to an analysis by the conservative Institute of Public Affairs, the size of the environmental bureaucracy had grown “persistently larger” since 1971.

The growth in federal environmental law dampens investment beyond the vexatious use of court challenges that have separately been estimated to have cost $1.2bn in investment in recent years. The IPA’s assessment of commonwealth environmental regulation finds “the burden of environmental laws has grown considerably, contributing to the significant red tape problem”.

The institute has calculated that red tape, not just so-called green lawfare that activists employ to delay and frustrate large developments, is costing the economy $176bn a year in foregone output.

“The burden of red tape is ­incurred across all industries and ­results in a range of economic costs,” the report says. “Environmental law is a significant part of this regulatory framework. Environmental red tape and regulation in particular has grown significantly in recent decades.”

The IPA argues that the commonwealth should devolve its environmental laws to the states to prevent duplication and red tape, while avoiding “a one size fits all” solution that suits activists ­opposed to development…

Simon Breheny, director of the free-market IPA think tank, told The Weekend Australian the “massive growth in federal environmental law places a significant burden on the economy”… He called for the federal government to “look at ways to address Australia’s red-tape problem”.

The study highlighted the plight of the Adani Carmichael mine project in central Queensland, which has been targeted by activists trying to stop the Galilee basin opening to coal mining.

The Adani central mining project application has been running for seven years and faced more than 10 court challenges. It includes a 22,000-page environmental impact statement.

In the Pilbara in Western Australia, the Roy Hill iron ore mine had to obtain 4000 separate licences, approvals and permits just for the pre-construction phase. The Productivity Commission reported in 2013 that one project had to meet 1500 government-imposed primary conditions and 8000 sub-conditions…

The Turnbull government vowed to review environmental laws to prevent activist groups’ legal challenges to development projects ranging from dams and roads to coalmines. It said challenges under section 487 of the Environment Act, which allows anyone with a “special interest in the environment” the right to challenge, were becoming more “vexatious and frivolous”. Of 32 legal challenges under the act that went to court, developers spent a cumulative 7,500 days — or 20 years — in court even though 28 of the environmental cases were defeated and three required only minor technical changes to go ahead.

Read more here ($). And you can read the IPA’s report, The Growth of Federal Environmental Laws: 1971 to 2016, here.

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