New body for the environment

THE state government has announced plans to create a new ‘super department’, with the merger of the Department of Environment and the Department of Conservation and Land Management to form the Department of Environment and Conservation. The new department, which will have a total budget of $270 million, will begin operations on July 1 and bring WA into line with New South Wales, Queensland and the Commonwealth in having a single body administering all environmental matters. The department will service the Environmental Protection Authority, the Swan River Trust, Waste Management Board, Keep Australia Beautiful Council, as well as the Conservation Commission of WA and the Marine Parks and Reserves Authority. The announcement of the new agency, which will have more than 1,800 staff across the state, has generally met with a positive response from industry groups. Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive John Langoulant said the chamber supported the decision and that the logic for such a move had been apparent for some time. “The Department of Environment and CALM have overlapping interests and responsibilities. Bringing them together will eliminate unnecessary administrative duplication and concentrate their resources,” he said. “It will be important potential efficiencies and savings are fully realised and the new agency fulfils its regulatory functions in a timely and practical way.” The Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association endorsed the consolidation of the departments. APPEA’s chief executive, Belinda Robinson, said: “APPEA has long called for reduced duplication and delays in the environmental approvals process, so we clearly welcome the announcement.” Environment Minister Mark McGowan said the new agency would help ensure environmental issues could be more adequately addressed in the face of the state’s booming economy and growing population. “The new department will be stronger and more robust, with the resources to tackle priority and emerging issues related to protecting and conserving our environment and the nature of Western Australia,” he said. Specifically, the department will target duplication in areas such as natural resource management, salinity and the protection of rivers and wetlands. Also, regulatory and approval processes will be streamlined to form a consistent approach across the new business, and provide a single contact point for the community, industry, tourism operators, pastoralists and conservation groups. The Chamber of Minerals and Energy of WA was more measured in its response, with director David Parker saying the chamber would closely monitor the implementation of the changes in the environment portfolio. “We would be very disappointed if an increase in bureaucracy in regulation and approvals results from the consolidation,” he said. The state opposition expressed some concerns over the new super department. Opposition environment spokes-man Steve Thomas questioned the Department of Environment’s policy and monitoring role while CALM was actively engaged in the maintenance of natural heritage. “The regulators should not also be the administrators,” Dr Thomas said. Greening Australia WA chief executive Dr Robert Lambeck shared a similar concern and said there was the potential for internal conflict with the new body’s dual roles of regulator and facilitator. “There is also the concern that the new, bigger department’s capacity to be effective may be reduced,” he said. Keiran McNamara, the current CALM executive director, will be the director general of the new agency, while the day-to-day operation of the former environment agency and CALM will be managed by Kim Taylor and Jim Sharp, respectively. Wally Cox will continue as the chairman of the EPA.

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