A draft report to the Australian government recommends establishing a single national system for regulating the nation's plastics and chemicals industry.
On March 19, the Productivity Commission, a federal government-appointed expert body charged with examining industry efficiency, released a draft report on proposals to reform regulation of chemicals and plastics.
The commission was asked in August 2006 by the leaders of Australia's federal, state and territory governments to examine current regulatory practices and recommend reforms to reduce red tape.
The draft report, based on consultations undertaken since then, said chemicals and plastics regulation in Australia is ``complex and fragmented'' and although it has been ``reasonably effective'' in achieving public health, workplace safety, environment protection and national security goals, there are ``many inefficiencies.''
Mike Woods, commissioner of the Productivity Commission, said: ``Developing uniform regulatory standards and streamlining responsibilities would have significant benefits.
``A higher degree of regulatory uniformity would remove unnecessary costs for industry and improve compliance, while not jeopardizing health, safety or the environment.''
Woods said Australia's federal government and its eight state and territory administrations all regulate the industry in different ways, yet the hazards and risks posed by chemicals and plastics vary little across the country.
``Regulating to protect people and the environment from risks posed by chemicals and plastics has resulted in unnecessary complexity under our federal system,'' he said.
That view was reflected in submissions by plastics industry operators that the commission noted in its draft report.
Melbourne-based Australian Vinyls Corp. told the commission: ``There is substantial duplication of legislation and other requirements across not only state and federal governments, but also within states. There is also difficulty with consistency between states.''
That view was echoed by Sydney-based 3M Australia Pty. Ltd., which said regulators exist ``in silos.''
``There appears to be very little cross-utilization of skills, resources, opinions and views or mechanisms and facilities [and] little action to improve consistency between and within different legislators,'' 3M told the commission.
The commission's draft report proposes a four-tiered governance model with policy oversight in the hands of ministerial councils representing federal, state and territory governments.
It said hazard and risk assessment should be a federal government responsibility, based on the advice of independent experts. Risk-management standards should be set by expert national bodies in areas such as workplace safety, poisons scheduling and transportation of dangerous goods. Finally, it recommended administration and enforcement be undertaken by individual governments.
``This framework allows all governments to participate in developing and implementing regulatory approaches. While it would achieve a high degree of uniformity, the standards would be flexible enough to accommodate the range of circumstances facing individual governments,'' Wood said.
The commission expects to complete its final report by July.