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 And it's true laws can become outdated and need reworking.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.