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Environment - EPA Independence

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 8 September 2021

Tags: Environment Protection Authority, State Budget

Dr WOODRUFF - You have talked a lot about actual and perceived independence. It's clear that the Premier, in his comments reported in the Mercury yesterday, has recognised that our current approach to not managing environmental values in Tasmania is damaging our brand. Can you confirm that a Statement of Expectations will no longer be provided to the EPA? Will the new EPA not be required to adhere or implement government policy and will not be required to put industry productivity and affluence ahead of environmental protection?

Mr JAENSCH - I would refute that the EPA or any statutory authority operating in Tasmania has ever been required to put, as you put it, profit ahead of the environment, or those sorts of things. I reject the framing of that question.

The reforms that we are announcing don't commit any change to having a Statement of Expectations. The Greens had proposed a bill to achieve what we are talking about today solely through removing a Statement of Expectation. We don't think that a Statement of Expectation is the critical factor in ensuring structural independence and integrity and that there needs to be an agreement between a government and its statutory authority about how they are going to work together. This is not a new thing. It is not unique to the EPA. The Tasmanian Planning Commission, the Heritage Council, TasNetworks, Hydro Tasmania, the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, I think even the Commissioner for Children and Young People has some form of exchange with the responsible ministers in government outlining the relative roles and expectations of both parties.

I think something like that will continue. I note that the Statement of Expectation we currently have is explicit - the EPA is an independent statutory body responsible for performing its functions and exercising its statutory powers at arm's length from government. There is no question about that. I don't think this is the most important thing to change. The structural separation is far more important and can remove any ambiguity about people with roles that are on the one hand independent statutory roles and on the other reporting to a secretary of a department on policy matters.

That is the important structural division. It enables us better to be able to explain how we are structured and how we maintain that separation. As Tasmania grows and develops and we have more people, more projects and developments to deal with, the workload is going to grow. We are going to need to build the capabilities of our regulatory system to deal with that. We believe that this separation is a stronger foundation to build on for the decades to come.

Dr WOODRUFF - You have said something that is internally inconsistent in your opening statement. You said the reason for doing this was to put to bed actual and perceived concerns about the independence of the EPA and now you have just said there is no question that the EPA is independent and there never has been. You are making this change because the EPA is not independent. I don't understand how it can be independent. The Integrity Commission does not have a Statement of Expectation directing them how to make decision.

Mr JAENSCH - Neither does this.

Dr WOODRUFF - We have been in Estimates before and I've forensically dissected that statement of expectations. I disagree. So does the community who have been outraged about this.

CHAIR - You're allowed to disagree but you need to ask a question while you're here.

Dr WOODRUFF - We will be looking at the detail of the act that comes to place, but will the act remove any possibility of ministerial interference or influence at all in the role of the EPA in the work they do?

Mr JAENSCH - That will be the intention. How we choose to do that and through what instrument we're yet to confirm. There are other examples in legislation that define the separation, the independent roles of statutory officers that we may draw on. That will come out in drafting of the legislation which, as for any legislative process, will be consulted and will be debated in the parliament.