States and territories have primary responsibility for environmental regulation in Australia. But with each state and territory taking their own approach to regulating the diverse subject matter inherent in environmental law, the result is a myriad of different state- and territory-based laws and policies. Navigating compliance with these regimes can be a challenge for business and industry where their activities extend across multiple jurisdictions.
Both industry and environmental groups have advocated for environmental laws to be “harmonised”. In a recent Parliamentary Committee inquiry into the burden of environmental regulation imposed on Australian business, a recurring theme of much of the evidence heard was the need for harmonisation of environmental laws across state and territory jurisdictions and the Committee made recommendations for harmonisation to be pursued.
The argument is that although the environment may be unique in each state and territory, the processes and mechanisms which regulate its protection need not be. A standardised regime for environmental regulation, such as through the adoption of a model law by each jurisdiction, could reduce regulatory burden and improve compliance and environmental performance.
But would there really be benefits for business and the environment? What aspects of environmental regulation should be harmonised? What can we learn from the national harmonisation of safety regulation? Our paper considers these questions and seeks to start a conversation about the merits of the idea.