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Thursday, 30 March 2017 09:39

Red tape blues

Farm businesses are subject to a vast and complex array of regulations, according to Australia's Productivity Commission.

Regulations are in place at every stage of the supply chain — from land acquisition to marketing — and are applied by all levels of government. The number and complexity of regulations affecting farm businesses means that the cumulative burden of regulation on farmers is substantial.
The need for regulation is not disputed by farm businesses. In fact, some regulations, such as biosecurity and food safety regulations, were highlighted as providing clear benefits to Australian farmers. Rather, Australian farmers want ‘better’ (or less burdensome) regulation.
Some regulations lack a sound policy justification and should be removed. Examples include restrictions on the use of land held under pastoral lease arrangements, state bans on cultivating genetically modified crops, barriers to entry for foreign shipping providers, mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods, and the regulated marketing of rice in New South Wales and sugar in Queensland.
In other cases, regulation is the wrong policy tool. Regulatory changes to address community concerns about foreign investment in agriculture, for example, are costly and likely to be ineffective. A better-informed conversation about foreign investment is needed.
Other regulations and regulatory systems need to be reformed so they can more fully achieve their objectives.
-    Native vegetation and biodiversity conservation regulations need fundamental change so that risks and impacts are considered at a relevant landscape‑wide scale. Environmental regulatory decisions also need to take into account economic and social factors.
-    Animal welfare regulations seek to achieve welfare outcomes that (among other things) meet community expectations. However, the current process for setting standards for farm animal welfare does not adequately value the benefits of animal welfare to the community.
-    The process for setting standards would be improved through the creation of a statutory agency responsible for developing national farm animal welfare standards using rigorous science and evidence of community values for farm animal welfare.
-    International evidence could be put to greater use in assessing agricultural and veterinary (agvet) chemicals, reducing the time and cost taken to grant registration.
-    Road access arrangements for heavy vehicles should be streamlined and simplified.
Inconsistent regulatory requirements across and within jurisdictions make it difficult for farmers to understand their obligations and add to the cost of doing business. A more consistent approach would improve outcomes in the areas of heavy vehicle regulation and road access, and the use of agvet chemicals.
Governments could also reduce the regulatory burden on farm businesses by:
-    improving their consultation and engagement practices. There is scope to better support landholders to understand environmental regulations, and to reduce duplicative and unnecessary information gathering regarding water management by farm businesses
-    doing more to coordinate their actions, both between agencies and between governments ensuring that good regulatory impact assessment processes are used as an analytical tool to support quality regulation making, not as a legitimising tool or compliance exercise.

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