What Secret Is Labor Hiding With Their Nature Positive Plan?

Written by:
13 March 2024
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In this article, Daniel Wild contextualises and disseminates the IPA’s research into red tape and its impact on Australia’s economic freedom and prosperity.

As it approaches its second anniversary, the Albanese Government has demonstrated a clear pattern of behaviour when implementing its radical policy agenda.

Step one: come up with an inoffensive and simplistic name for controversial legislative changes, like “same job, same pay”, or “secure jobs, better pay”.

Step two: ensure that these policies are broad and complex enough to provide cover for the insidious clauses of real impact.

Step three: limit the time for businesses, employers, other political parties and independents, or the public, to analyse the nuances of the policy.

Step four: ram the legislation through Parliament, with minor concessions if the crossbench complains.

It has proved a very effective, with Australians only now realising what they were getting after they had voted. This was the case with multi-enterprise bargaining laws, which were only revealed after Albanese’s Government was elected. It is now the law of the land.

This very playbook is in action again with the so-called “nature positive plan”. Warm and cuddly name, check.

Nature Positive seeks to replace the entire package of Federal environmental law found in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

Analysis from the Institute of Public Affairs demonstrated that the EPBC Act is one of the most complex pieces of Federal legislation in existence, running to more than 1100 pages and with hundreds more in subsidiary legislation and guidelines.

Broad and complex policies, check.

The Federal Government promised in December 2022 to prepare the legislation in the “first six months of 2023”, during which time there would be “extensive consultation with stakeholders around the detail”. An exposure draft would be released “prior to being introduced into the Parliament before the end of 2023”.

But to date, there have been only three closed door sessions for a select group of stakeholders and two public webinars. There has been no exposure draft, no regulatory impact statement, and no proper engagement with the sectors that will be left to deal with mess. Despite this, the Government plans to introduce the legislation into Parliament within a matter of months.

Don’t provide enough time for review, check.

The fourth step, to ram the legislation through Parliament, is impending.

Nature Positive represents the largest upheaval of Australian environmental law in more than 25 years, and so far the Australian people do not have any meaningful detail about what it entails.

We have glimpses into what the Prime Minister has planned, including a massive new Federal environment bureaucracy to duplicate those that already exist at the State level. IPA research shows the Federal environmental bureaucracy has already grown by half under this Government. Under the mooted changes it will take decision making away from the relevant minister, in a direct contradiction of the 2020 Samuel review into the EPBC Act.

The secrecy surrounding Nature Positive is just part of the Federal Government’s policy playbook. It should be recognisable to Australians now. Remember the proposed Voice to Parliament, where we were told we did not need to know the detail.

Nature Positive could have a devastating impact on Australian jobs, and on vital wealth-creating investment. Last financial year there were 214 decisions made under the EPBC Act relating to projects across renewable energy generation and transmission, mining, agriculture, aquaculture, public infrastructure, waste management, residential developments, tourism and recreation, and water management.

The EPBC Act is famously cumbersome and difficult for project proponents to navigate. The average time taken for approvals has blown out, with the Productivity Commission highlighting that resources sector projects now take about three years for Federal approval alone.

These delays grow every year and impose significant costs on Australians. They make Australia less attractive to invest, and are part of the broader grip that red tape has on the economy which makes us less resilient and competitive.

The Business Council of Australia has recently highlighted that Australia is in an “investment drought”, with Australians investing more money overseas than is being invested in Australia. That is driven by our unattractive and restrictive policy settings.

This is why Australia is in a recession on an individual level. The latest economic data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that per capita economic growth declined for the past four consecutive quarters. The last time that happened was in the early 1980s, in the middle of a global recession.

To reverse all this, we need an Australia positive plan. And step one of that plan will be opening up Federal Government’s secretive Nature Positive plan to proper review and analysis.

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