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Federalism in the Regulation of Chemical Pollutants in Australia

By An Rae

Abstract

In response to the growth of the environment movement and increasing citizen concern for the environment, the Commonwealth and the Australian states moved to set up government departments of environment, or Environment Protection Agencies, in the early 1970s. At first the issues which engaged the public were 'green' ones, involving land and marine degradation, biodiversity (a term not then in use), and activities such as logging, mining and the generation of hydro-electric power. These were soon joined on the public agenda, however, by concerns over 'brown' issues such as chemical pollution and the management of hazardous chemicals and chemical wastes, but these were less well understood by the general public than the more visible 'green' issues. At this time, also, Australian governments took significant steps to achieve nationally consistent regulation through the work of ministerial councils, notably the Australian Environment Council (AEC) and subsequently the Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council (ANZECC). A further wave of environmentalism in the late 1980s and early 1990s, coupled with further development of the federalism model for environmental regulation that flowed from high-level inter-government meetings that were formalised as the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), gave rise to the formation of the National Environment Protection Council (NEPC). This body, while not giving more power to the Commonwealth, achieves national harmonisation of regulations through slightly more coercive processes than are available to the older-style ministerial councils. These continue to exist, however, operating in parallel with NEPC. For chemicals coming into use, there are national schemes under which the Commonwealth, states and territories regulated industrial, agricultural and veterinary chemicals, therapeutic substances, and food additives. Most 'brown' issues, however, remain with the successor to ANZECC, the Environment Protection and Heritage Council, as part of which NEPC continues to develop national approaches. In both periods of rapid change, there was a coincidence of environmentalism and federalism, but international developments were also important--in the first phase the United Nations' first 'environment' meeting, held in 1972 in Stockholm, and in the second the developments flowing from the so-called 'Earth Summit' held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Although public environmentalism continues to be mainly concerned with 'green' issues, the 'brown' issues remain a focus for governments and some non-government organisations.Waste Chemicals, Pollution, Regulation, Policy, Commonwealth-state Cooperation, National-international Influences,

DOI identifier: 10.1080/08109020308128
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