IPA Today

Australia’s Green Tape Army – An Analysis Of The Growth Of The Environmental Bureaucracy And Agricultural Sector

Written by and
7 September 2022

Agriculture embodies the values of hard work, risk-taking and entrepreneurship: the values which are central to the Australian way of life. Farmers, graziers, cattlemen, shearers and stockmen are an inextricable part of the Australian identity.

The products of Australia’s $83 billion agricultural industry feed and clothe the world, and lift people out of poverty and starvation. As a nation, Australia produces enough food to feed 75 million people each and every year – enough to feed its entire population three times over.1

Despite the significant and enduring contribution of Australia’s agricultural sector, the burden of red and green tape is immense and continues to grow.

There are a number of different ways to measure the weight of regulatory burdens. 
A landmark research report by the Institute of Public Affairs, The Growth of Federal Environmental Law: 2019 Update, quantified the growth of environmental regulatory burden at the federal level since the establishment of the first Commonwealth environmental department (in 1971) by studying the number of pages of Commonwealth environmental regulation since 1971. It identified that there had been an 80-fold increase in environmental red tape by 2019.

Another way of quantifying the growth of environmental red tape – or green tape – is to measure the expansion of the environmental bureaucracy in terms of its spending and workforce. This is the purpose of the present study. Environmental bureaucracy, in this report, is defined as the relevant environment department, plus all of its related entities such as the Environment Protection Agency. A list of the relevant agencies is provided in the Appendix.

This report estimates the size and growth of the federal and Western Australian 
state environment bureaucracies since the year 2000, when the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) came into effect. To do this, we analysed total spending by and staffing of respective environment departments and agencies.

At the national level, our study finds that, since the year 2000:

  • Spending on the Commonwealth’s environmental bureaucracy has increased by 470%, while the size of the agricultural industry nationwide has increased by only 175%.
  • The Commonwealth’s environmental bureaucracy has grown at nearly three times the rate as the agricultural sector.
  • Staffing at the federal environmental bureaucracy has increased by 256%, while employment in agriculture throughout the country has declined by 27%.
  • For every job created in the environmental bureaucracy, 14 jobs have been destroyed in Australia’s agricultural sector.

At the state level in Western Australia our study finds that, since the year 2000:

  • Western Australia’s environmental bureaucracy spending has increased by 635%, while the size of the state’s agricultural sector has only increased by 115%.
  • The growth of the Western Australian environmental bureaucracy is 5.5 times the growth of the agricultural industry over this period.
  • Staffing at Western Australia’s environmental bureaucracy has increased by 326%, while employment in agriculture throughout the state has declined by 35%.
  • For every job created in Western Australia’s environmental bureaucracy, 21 jobs have been destroyed in the Western Australian agricultural sector.

To illustrate the sheer size of Australia’s environmental bureaucracy, this report also estimates the number of Australians employed by environmental bureaucracies across all states and territories and at the federal level.

The total number of staff employed by environmental departments nationwide is estimated to amount to 34,604 people. By contrast, the size of Australia’s regular army by headcount is 29,399. This means that the size of the nation’s taxpayer-funded green tape army is almost 20% larger than the size of the regular army.

Moreover, the green tape army of environmental bureaucrats has doubled in size since 2000 whereas the increase in the size of the regular army was only 22%.

Only root and branch reform, involving the elimination of unnecessary red and green tape, and the bureaucrats who impose it on farmers and other primary producers, will help restore prosperity and opportunity to the Australian economy.

Our recommendations are as follows:

  • Australian governments of all levels should announce a moratorium on all new regulation being imposed on the agricultural sector for the next five years.
  • Subsequently, federal and state governments must introduce a one-in-two-out approach, where two pieces of regulation are repealed for every new piece of regulation introduced.
  • The federal government should cease the regulation of any agricultural activity which is already regulated at the state level, to remove unnecessary duplication.
  • Repeal the requirement for farmers and landowners to obtain a government permit to clear native vegetation, which is of low environmental value, on privately held land.
  • Repeal section 487 of the EPBC Act which allows environmental groups to engage in litigation against major resources projects.
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Daniel Wild

Daniel Wild is the Deputy Executive Director at the Institute of Public Affairs

Kevin You

Dr Kevin You is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs

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