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'Green tape' can prevent black days and red faces

ANALYSIS

The burden of ''green tape'' has become a rallying cry for business and governments intent on speeding up industrial development. But if you ever wanted an illustration of what green tape is supposed to prevent then catch a train to Morwell today and take a deep breath.

As part of its welcome inquiry into the month-long Hazelwood coalmine fire, the Napthine government is flagging that a focus will be the regulatory regime - the ''green tape'' - that is applied to the site.

Unions and firefighters have raised questions about the actions of Hazelwood's owners since the disaster began. Were fire prevention sprinkler systems stripped out? Were disused parts of the mine, now smouldering, not rehabilitated properly? The company - GDF Suez - says these allegations are incorrect and the inquiry could very well show their actions were proper and within their legal requirements.

But there is a broad suspicion that in the past few years Hazelwood's owners have invested the bare minimum in capital works and maintenance to keep the mine and its associated power plant running, with an expectation of closure by decade's end. With carbon pricing to be axed, and gas prices soaring, Hazelwood and other brown-coal generators and mines will now likely have a much longer life. Putting aside climate change concerns, that brings into question whether our laws are properly equipped to mitigate the risks of ageing mine and power infrastructure so close to towns.

It should also focus our minds on how well existing environment laws are being enforced. In 2012 the Victorian Auditor-General found the state's environment department did not have sufficient policies or systems in place to ensure business was complying with current law.

And are the measures in place to ensure the mine site is restored when operations do eventually cease? Is the $15 million rehabilitation bond paid by Hazelwood's owners enough, given the likely costs of restoration will be in hundreds of millions of dollars? These are important questions this inquiry must answer. And they illustrate how important these laws - often decried as ''green tape'' - can be.

Business argues too many of these environmental protections are burdensome and overlap - especially approval permits for developments across federal and state levels. And it's true laws can become outdated and need reworking. But hasten too quickly to remove them and it leaves the community, and the natural world, exposed to adverse impacts. The people of Morwell can testify to what that feels like.

21 comments so far

  • Green tape ensures businesses pay the small cost up front for prevention. It was brought in to obviate the need for the massive cure cost which is often borne by the taxpayer after the business has fled.
    Removing green tape is socialism of costs after the privatising of profit. LNP socialists? Yes, when it suits.

    Commenter
    Bg2
    Date and time
    March 12, 2014, 7:18AM
    • Here is another clear example of why green tape is needed:

      http://www.sbs.com.au/ondemand/video/32610883855/Colour-Change

      Commenter
      sarajane
      Location
      melbourne
      Date and time
      March 12, 2014, 8:29AM
    • And it gets worse! The EPA seems to have given a permit to HVP Plantations to set fire to 1000s of acres of wind-rows within their plantations in the vicinity of Boolorra, Darlimurla and Mirboo North. So not only have the people of these areas been exposed to a month of smoke from the coal fire, now they are to be exposed to months of wood fire smoke from HVP Plantations. How exactly is the EPA protecting peoples' health?

      Commenter
      CM
      Date and time
      March 12, 2014, 8:38AM
    • Some environmental regulation is necessary but the sheer scale of Green tape is TOTALLY out of control in this country. Many people who argue it's not simply want to shut down industry based on ideology.

      Overlapping federal / state regulations are a major problem.

      It is industry that creates jobs, pays tax that funds government services and produces the goods and services that underpin our standard of living. Bury industry in green tape and watch our cost of living skyrocket and our businesses shut and jobs get offshored.

      Look at Tasmania - 70% of people depend on govt payments or work for government - the state only survives on welfare from mainland Australia.

      Commenter
      Sarah
      Date and time
      March 12, 2014, 9:31AM
    • Correction to AND IT GETS WORSE. Apparently, HVP does not need any permit to burn 1000's of acres of wood rubbish so EPA has not issued one!

      Commenter
      CM
      Date and time
      March 12, 2014, 10:03AM
  • Many of the problems Australian companies who have branches in more than one Australian jurisdiction face could be eliminated if the Federal government were to formulate and enforce every single rule and obligation that are currently called ‘green tape’.
    Uniformity across our small population but large area is vital if we are to continue our progress towards fairness of opportunity, and improvement in lifestyles for all Australians.

    Commenter
    EM
    Date and time
    March 12, 2014, 8:04AM
    • The government and authorities have been massively down-playing the impact of the fire. Of course people in Morwell are worst hit but people up to 30k away have been suffering from the smoke. I have just returned from Mirboo North (approx 30k away) and the people there are suffering from the smoke most evenings and mornings. People with breathing problems are advised to stay indoors. I felt like I had smoked a pack of cigarettes after 24 hours. The back of my throat was burning. And they have been suffering for the past month. If it happened in Melbourne there would be hell to pay. So what precisely is the EPA doing? Nothing. That is the instruction from the Ryan Smith, apparently. There has been NO attempt to monitor actual exposure levels. There has been NO attempt to establish the extent of the exposure. AND there is NO intention to charge GDFSuez for the adverse impact of their "business". And don't imagine that it has finished because you can't see flame. The fire is still burning toward Morwell (Houses, Freeway) underground through the coal seam! Residents of Morwell AND surrounding areas can expect on-going, intermittent smoke exposure for.... years! This is Australia's worst environmental disaster but you would never know. I encourage the media to talk to people in Yinnar, Boolarra, Darlimurla, Mirboo North. All these towns are currently getting smoke - maybe others as well.

      Commenter
      CM
      Date and time
      March 12, 2014, 8:32AM
      • Just wondering if GDFSuez is paying for the fire to be put out ,coz i didn't see any fire trucks with GDF Suez written on the side.
        Did we(the tax payer )foot the bill?

        Commenter
        Guido999
        Date and time
        March 12, 2014, 8:33AM
        • Most likely. should be a class action by the residents.Take them to town. One rule for corporates another for us.

          Commenter
          A country gal
          Date and time
          March 12, 2014, 9:48AM
      • The Hazelwood fire was deliberately lit. Is there some suggestion that this is somehow GDF Suez's fault?

        I would prefer any inquiry be directed toward prosecuting the arsonists who set the blaze that caused the smoke to drift over Morwell, rather than an excuse to impose further imposts and restrictions on business.

        Ridiculously prohibitive "green tape" has already scared away billions of dollars worth of investment from Victoria.

        Our decimated local manufacturing industry is testament to green tape lunacy.

        Compound this malaise with three levels of bureaucracy and it's a wonder any businesses survive in Victoria at all.

        How many more industries are we prepared to see off with nonsensical green imposts? You can't eat the scenery.

        Cutting green tape length-ways just doubles the amount and if you ever wanted an illustration of what green tape does to a state's economy just go to Tasmania.

        Commenter
        Jay Santos
        Date and time
        March 12, 2014, 8:56AM

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