Aerial photo of tractor harvesting on farmland

The Productivity Commission is undertaking a 9-month public inquiry into the regulatory burden on farm businesses across Australia and released its draft report on 21 July 2016. The focus of the inquiry is on the regulations that have a material impact at each key stage of the supply chain that affects the competitiveness and productivity of Australian Agriculture. This includes the preparation of the land where clearing is regulated to protect native vegetation and biodiversity.

The purpose of the inquiry is to identity government regulations that impose an unnecessary burden on farming businesses. Where legitimate policy goals underlay those regulations, the Commission will assess whether there is scope to achieve the regulatory objectives in a more efficient manner.

Some of the key concerns heard by the Commission regarding native vegetation and conservation regulations are:

  • regulations are duplicated across different levels of government and a farmer wanting to clear trees may need approval from both the Australian Government under the Environmental Protection Biodiversity Act 1999 (Cth);
  • in some cases, clearing is administered in an overly bureaucratic and inflexible fashion where environmental harm is not tolerated, even for cases which may result in large social or economic benefits; and
  • generally, regulations place considerable costs on farm businesses, including the cost of conserving species and ecosystems that benefit the wider community.

The key advice provided by the Commission in the draft report is that native vegetation and biodiversity conservation regulations should be changed so that regulatory agencies consistently consider economic, social and environmental factors and so that decisions are based on an assessment of environmental risk. Additionally, better use could be made of market-based approaches to aid conservation of native vegetation and biodiversity. This may include governments buying environmental services such as vegetation retention and management from landholders, thus taking the financial and conservation burden off landholders.

The final report will be published after further submissions are received and public hearings held. Submissions in response to the draft report are due by Thursday 18 August 2016. In Western Australia, the public hearing will be held on 16 August 2016 at Mantra on Murray (395 Murray Street, Perth).  Representatives from Glen McLeod Legal will be present at the public hearing and would be pleased to discuss any of your queries.