The Auditor General is scathing in his latest report into the compliance responsibilities of DSE and the Dept Primary Industries (now responsible for logging and VicForests).
But given they shamelessly break State and Federal laws and regulations themselves, how can they be expected to monitor and enforce compliance of others?
These two departments have the task of overseeing, monitoring and enforcing the laws and regulations that protect public lands, primary industries and the environment. They clearly aren’t!
The Auditor General also did a compliance review back in 2009 and came up with similar findings. DSE and DPI said they would pull up their socks. But what have they done since? Sack 600 staff!
Instead of upping their capacity to do what they should – enforce laws and regulations around the areas they’re responsible for – they are whittling away laws and rules to suit those who exploit the land, and suit their new minimal employee base.
The Baillieu government is all out to weaken planning regs, threatened species protection, land clearing laws and so on, which conveniently makes it easier for their backers to abuse Victoria’s public lands. It’s like having child protection laws but not funding enforcement officers or welfare workers.
But we can’t blame their ‘ineffective and inefficient’ handling of compliance solely on a lack of staff and resources, though it’s a large part of it. When there are duck protestors carrying wounded ducks in from the wetlands, or forest protestors with placards, they seem to have an army of compliance officers ready to pounce and issue summonses.
Yet when VicForests was investigated and charged with 8 counts of criminally logging protected rainforest in 2010, DSE agreed to give them a 12 months ‘try-a-bit-harder’ bond.
The DSE is obliged to conduct surveys for threatened species before they torch their habitat in planned burns – but they never do. Hence the Southern Brown Bandicoot, and Mallee Fowl and other rare wildlife have been threatened by the very department that is empowered to protect them.
Cattlemen have breached their licence conditions for decades, loggers and VicForests constantly thumb their nose at the law and regulations, there are countless occasions of duck shooters violating the laws – but these are rarely if ever prosecuted or even warned.
Wildlife culling permits are handed out like lollies from the sack of a shopping-mall Santa. The overworked wildlife officers just don’t have the resources to assess what’s happening – before or after permits are issued. A permit for 5 kangaroos could end up seeing 50-100 kangaroos shot by amateur shooters out for a fun time. No one would ever know.
There are also instances of formally lodged complaints by the public against irresponsible people, operators and companies, but they mostly meet a bureaucratic brick wall of letters or eventually disappear into a bureaucratic black hole.
Unfortunately the Auditor General can only recommend. We suspect this report and its recommendations will end up being ignored like the last. This Baillieu government is clearly anti-environment, but previous Liberal and Labor governments have been no different in their under-commitment to protect the environment and public lands.
The report can be downloaded here