In May 2017, The Northern Territory Government released a discussion paper for Environmental Regulatory Reform, representing Phase 2 of a 5 Phase process.
The key elements of the discussion paper include:
- A broad definition of environment and equal importance of cultural/social, economic and biophysical considerations.
- Development of Northern Territory Environment Objectives (TEOs) which will establish principles/values for development, with associated guidance that may be Territory-wide or specific to a place, region or species.
- An approach to project assessment commensurate to risk. A range of assessment types are proposed, each suited to different circumstances and scales: project referred, EIS for larger projects, issues for Public Inquiry and Strategic Environmental Assessments.
- Proponent responsibility for data collection, assessment and referral to the EPA (or not), whereby the proponent assesses the ‘significance” of impact with regard to the TEOs.
- Penalties for false and misleading information and possibility of issuance of ‘stop work orders’.
- Consideration of previous performance and ‘fit and proper persons’ status.
- Promoting ‘Public Participation’ at each of the major decision points of the process, in which ‘Supplementary’ information may be submitted.
- Consideration of the timeliness and effectiveness of consultation with the ‘affected community’ and preference for early engagement.
- Attached to Environmental Approvals, public disclosure of the reasons and supporting evidence for approval.
- To address non-compliance, allowing referrals to the EPA from local government, ‘affected’ stakeholders, industry groups and community organisations and any member of the public.
- A framework which allows approvals to be appealed by both persons who may be directly affected by the proposal and organisations that may have an interest and/or that have made a ‘legitimate’ submission previously.
- The roles and governance of the EPA, including managing potential conflicts of interest related to strategic and development goals and approvals.
- The use of offsets as a last resort to mitigate environmental impacts.
The discussion paper invites feedback against a range of issues previously identified. Those which seem most relevant to AusIMM members include:
- The potential breadth of ETO’s and assessment types, the possibility of concurrent assessments and difficulty in coordinating activities, funding and assessing cross-cutting issues given the range and diversity of inputs from ‘affected’ and interested parties.
- The availability, accessibility and cost of ‘baseline data’ if not well supported by government.
- The limited detail of assessment requirements and potential for increased proponent costs associated with the use of professional services.
- The manner in which the ‘public’ is invited to participate, to promote transparency and accountability, improving public confidence (trust), rights of appeal and the associated costs and timeframes involved. The potential for unscrupulous ‘organisations’ and individuals to manipulate and politicise issues through the appeal process.
- The possibility that ‘legitimate’ third parties to lodge injunctions to halt operations.
- The possibility that the NT government is seeking to offset the cost of assessment and compliance to industry and the community, resulting in poor compliance and poorer environmental and social performance.
- The ambiguity of a range of terminology including ‘assessment triggers’ and ‘significant’ or ‘significance’.
In moving forward, the Committee would be particularly interested to see a range of projects modelled through the proposed assessment framework (following development of the TEOs) to understand the time, resource and cost implications of the proposed framework, prior to development of draft legislation.
The Committee anticipates additional engagement in the process and encourages members to provide feedback as the reform gathers pace.