Business stunned by Qld EPA environmental levy hike

By: Mitch Gaynor

Business groups and local government have slammed a Queensland Government proposal to increase environmental levies by up to tens of

Business groups and local government have slammed a Queensland Government proposal to increase environmental levies by up to tens of thousands of dollars to fund compliance programs.

The Environmental Protection Agency is reviewing the Environmental Protection Regulation for the first time in 10 years and has proposed a new fee system that will see massive increases in charges as well as fines for non-compliance.

If approved by the Government, the EPA, along with Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries and local councils will collect nearly $46 million in fees from a wide range of industries – up from $9 million collected in 2006/07.

The increase will be funded entirely through businesses deemed to be undertaking 'environmentally relevant activities'. These include food processing, fabricated metal products, transport services, waste management, mining, and sawmilling.

Some firms could pay tens of thousands of dollars per site, per year with the Government also axing multi-site discounts to boost revenue.

Fees for some metal work sites will increase from $16,340 per year to $60,800, while some waste disposal activity will increase from $10,000 to $19,000.

Many other activities will see increases of thousands of dollars.

Australian Industry Group Queensland Executive Director Chris Rodwell says he is "alarmed by the proposed increase" in charges.

"Industry is already absorbing increasing cost pressures, for example through energy, interest rate increases and the high Australian dollar," he says.

"Additional costs … will further add to this burden, and could force increased prices for consumers.

"Industry takes its responsibilities for managing the environment very seriously, and this principle will be central to any further discussions we have with the Government on this issue."

Farmers in intensive industries – including chicken, sheep, pig and cattle feedlotting - are also being targeted and the Queensland Farmers Federation's Chief Executive John Cherry says the plan is a "grab for cash" that does not provide incentives for best practice methods.

"They’re talking about more than trebling the amount of money they’re collecting form industry right across the board. It’s a huge increase in one go for cost recovery of compliance inspectors, which we don’t think we should be paying for," he says.

"We’re also not convinced the environmental risk profiles they have developed are based on the best possible information that’s available.

"They’re based very heavily on the national pollution inventory and desktop research … but it doesn’t really take into account conditions in Queensland."

Cherry says industry must be given the opportunity to limit its costs in funding the EPA’s compliance program.

"In our view if you are going to do cost recovery from industry, then industry should have a say in trying to reduce the cost of the service in the first place," he adds.

Another aspect of the RIS is the ‘devolving’ of EPA responsibilities to the local government level.

Queensland councils will pick up an extra $10 million annually in fees for programs they are now responsible for, however Cherry says state legislation allows for councils to charge outside of the recommended fee structure.

While the review says the fee structure falls into line with national standards, the Queensland Government is the first to introduce 'environmental scores'.

Much of the policing of the new system will be sent down to the local government level — something councils say is unworkable without adequate funding and training.

Local Government Association of Queensland Chief Executive Paul Bell says councils have deep concerns about taking on new tasks.

"Local government has been very wary of the extent to which these new regulations have been handed back to local government and we are also concerned in that many of the new responsibilities will require capabilities that is not there at the local government level," he says.

"Many of the officers that are going to be asked to carry out the regulations will need significant training and retraining and there’s going to be new resources required.

"We’re looking at a fairly strong commitment from the State Government that the resources will be obtained by councils and that the capability for officers will be grown very rapidly so that the new roles and responsibilities can be administered.

"Otherwise we’re going to have all this new legislation with nobody being able to carry out the role of regulating as required."

Bell adds the proposal "couldn’t have come at a worse time" for local councils.

"People are totally distracted from being able to carry out a process. People are asking after the 15th of March where are they going to be and how is it going to work," he says.

"We’ve asked the state to look at not taking these new responsibilities to local government until at least the end of the calendar year."

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