Where is Environmental Regulation Heading in WA?

Another day in paradise

As a long standing practitioner on both sides of the fence (government and private)  in the area of Environmental Protection in WA, I am struggling to identify a clear direction or strategy with regards to the policy and statutory aspects of environmental regulation in WA.

There is a clear dichotomy between the two key regulatory agencies responsible for Environmental Protection in WA:

  • Under the joint and extended leadership of Paul Vogel and Kim Taylor the EPA has made great strides in terms of streamlining and clarifying the EPA Assessment process and articulating a clear policy direction.  The process now runs smoothly and there seems to be healthy mix of firm environmental protection and pragmatism that is producing outcomes that protect the areas of environment that matter while allowing development to proceed where it should.  It is sad to see Paul leaving this role before he has achieved everything of which he was capable (especially when rumour has it that he was keen to stay on).  Having said that, Dr Tom Hatton, his replacement is a very capable and experienced operator who I am sure can continue the good work.
  • The Department of Environmental Regulation on the other hand  has suffered through a series of reviews and restructures and has been lead by a series of Acting Director Generals, none of whom have had a good grounding in the field of environmental regulation and policy relating to environmental regulation.  The current incumbent, Jason Banks,  has a varied background including:
  • Being a detective in the WA Police Force
  • Being CEO and Co-ordinator of the Office of Energy; and
  • A range of senior management and review positions in the State Government.

This background may make him a competent  manager and able administrator but to date he seems unable or unwilling to articulate a vision and direction for environmental protection in WA.  Coupled with this, is the fact  that under his leadership the DER appears to be moving to an old fashioned command and control regulatory approach backed by an enforcement unit staffed, not by people with an environmental management background, but instead by staff sourced from a police enforcement background.   As a result there has been an increase in the number of prosecutions attempted but no evidence of a concomitant strategic benefit.

There also seems to be a lack of co-ordination and consultation between the various directorates in the agency with a series of policy documents released that fail to consider a whole of agency approach, let alone a whole of Government approach.  This is most evidenced in relation to the  series of Environmental Standards that are currently being released at the rate of 1-2 a month.  These documents and the whole area of waste will be the subject of subsequent posts.

We can only hope to see an approach  going forward driven by well structured and thought out policy that fits within a strategic framework and vision.