Brisbane Times By Tony Moore April 22, 2020 — 9.45am
Queensland is the only Australian state that does not have an independent Environment Protection Agency – 50 years after the world’s first EPA was formed on June 22, 1970.
The world marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day on Wednesday.
The world’s first EPA in the United States had the following achievements in its first three years:
- banned the dangerous pesticide DDT;
- set the first air quality standards to protect public health under the fledgling Clean Air Act;
- established standards for cleaner cars and lead-free gasoline; and
- built an environmental law-enforcement program with teeth.
Queensland conservation groups are seriously asking why Queensland does not have an independent Environmental Protection Agency.CREDIT:FAIRFAX MEDIA
All the other Australian states have an independent agency operating either as an independent board, or reporting to the state’s parliament.
Queensland’s EPA was rolled back into the Department of Environment and Resource Management in 2009 by incoming premier Anna Bligh.
Leeanne Enoch, Queensland’s Environment Minister, said the Department of Environment and Science acted as the state’s environment regulator.
“The regulator uses the best available information and science to underpin and inform its decisions, which are made independently and without political interference.”
South Australian Sandra Knack, president of Sustainable Population Australia, seriously questioned how Queensland operated without an independent environmental watchdog as the world marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.
“My God, that is amazing. In 2020, to not have an Environmental Protection Agency, that is almost incomprehensible,” Ms Knack said.
“What century is Queensland in? This is so far behind the other states. I am bamboozled, to be honest.
“This needs to be something raised by the state’s grassroots environmental bodies.”
Rick Ralph, chief executive of the Waste Recycling Industry Association Queensland, which represents companies involved in landfill and waste processing, said the issue prevented firms from reporting pollution.
He said the lack of an environmental protection agency in Queensland was a source of constant frustration for his organisation.
“The Department of Environment is incompetent. It’s not the people, it’s the system. It’s fundamentally broken,” Mr Ralph said.
Tyres stored at TyreMil tyre recyclers at Grindle Road at Rocklea described by a court as a catastrophic fire risk.CREDIT:TONY MOORE
He said the department’s multiple roles in regulation, monitoring and enforcement meant there was a tendency to change the rules to accommodate problems rather than confronting them.
“They are judge, jury and executioner,” he said.
Mr Ralph said the department focused its limited investigative resources on operations that were already licensed, giving unscrupulous operators a huge advantage.
“In this state it’s easier not to have a licence,” he said.
“If you don’t have a licence, (investigators) have to phone up and ask if they can come. Do you think operators doing the wrong thing won’t then cover it up?”
He said a pollution hotline was a waste of time.
“I might read about it in the media,” he said.
Lawyer Jo Bragg from the Queensland’s Environmental Defenders Office argued enforcement of Queensland’s Environmental Protection Act was the key point.
“Why have rules that are not enforced?”, Ms Bragg said.
“For example, Queensland’s Department of Environmental and Science did successfully prosecute Adani for committing the criminal offence of supplying false or misleading documents,” she said.
“That was good. But it was the community that identified that breach and brought it to the department’s attention.
Coast and Country spokesman Derec Davies and EDO CEO Jo Bragg speak to media outside the Supreme Court in 2018.CREDIT:JORGE BRANCO
“It was not self-reported by Adani [Adani claims it did self-report this issue], so the community and EDO play a watchdog role.
“But we need DES to take the lead on enforcement.”
Ms Bragg said an EPA would work if it was “well set up and resourced”.
“Unless an EPA is correctly set up – with an independent skilled board – it’s no improvement over a government department,” she said.
“A major problem with Qld Department of Environment and Science is, despite some improvements, that it has a culture of assuming projects go ahead, with environmental conditions, no matter the environmental impact.”
Environment Protection Agency in Australian states
The New South Wales EPA was formed in 1991, brought into government, but since February 2012 has operated “independent” of government.
In Victoria, the EPA was set up as an independent statutory in 1971 and reports through their Environment Minister.
The Tasmanian EPA is run by an independent board, chaired by aquaculture zoologist Warren Jones, at arms length from the Tasmania state government.
In South Australia, the 25-year-old Environment Protection Agency operates as a independent statutory body under an independent board and directors within the Environment and Water portfolio.
The Western Australia Environmental Protection Agency was established in 1971 and is run by an independent board appointed by the Western Australian governor.
– with Mark Solomons