Opinion: Why the threatened species program is a burden on rural Australia

Opinion: How our threatened species program is costing us dearly


The Giant Barred Frog (Mixophyes iteratus) - Mary River, Queensland.

The Giant Barred Frog (Mixophyes iteratus) - Mary River, Queensland.

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Institute of Public Affairs research fellow, Morgan Begg says our 'onerous' species protection regime is having major economic impacts in rural and regional Australia.

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The future prosperity of regional Australia is threatened by unnecessary regulatory roadblocks.

All industries, but particularly those in regional Australia, are subject to a byzantine array of licences, permits and regulatory approvals. This red tape burden slows or prevent major projects, cost jobs and ultimately costs the national economy $176 billion every year in foregone economic output. That's equivalent to 11 per cent of the national economy.

One of these regulatory roadblocks is from Australia's threatened species protection regime. A new research paper by the Institute of Public Affairs Decentralisating the Protection of Australian Threatened Species, published recently, revealed that the protection of threatened species has become increasingly complex and is beset with duplication.

The size of the federal list of protected species has increased by over 60 per cent since 1992 when the Endangered Species Protection Act was introduced. Since 2000 when the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act was introduced, on average 15 species have been added to the list every year, totalling over 1,800 protected species under federal law.

Morgan Begg

Morgan Begg

This of course excludes the state lists, which have also increased since 2000. In particular, the Queensland list has increased by over 100 per cent in that time, and most of the list is duplicated with the federal list, adding to the regulatory confusion.

An onerous species protection regime disproportionately affects regional and rural Australia. This is unsurprising: regional and rural Australia is host to much of the wildlife that legislation seeks to protect.

Because rural Australia carries most of the burden of protecting threatened species, that means projects in the country can be delayed or deemed too risky to begin in the first place.

This is what happened to the Nathan Dam project on the Dawson River, where the boggomoss snail held up development for nine years before experts determined that the population of the snail was "significantly higher than originally suggested".

The state and federal government's current method for protecting species is unsustainable and facilitates regulatory expansion and complexity. One proposed solution would be to abolish the state-based regime and adopt a single, one-size-fits-all regime across the country.

In particular, the Queensland list has increased by over 100 per cent in that time, and most of the list is duplicated with the federal list, adding to the regulatory confusion.

But Canberra is far removed from the concerns of regional Australia, and is poorly placed to understand the balance between development and environmental protection.

The preferred solution is to go the other way: abolish the federal regime and return responsibility for protecting species to the States. The States are naturally more likely to have better knowledge of the environmental situation in their jurisdictions than Canberra.

Only by embracing "jurisdictional competition" between the States can duplication be eliminated while also minimising the risk of red tape needlessly killing projects or threatening jobs for Queenslanders. 

Morgan Begg is a research fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs

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