Cost recovery and National Environment Law
The Australian Government has proposed the introduction of cost recovery arrangements as part of a package of reforms for national environmental law. This was a key recommendation of the Independent Review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act 1999 (the Independent Review).
What is cost recovery?
Cost recovery means charging a fee to cover the cost of specific services provided by the Australian Government for work that benefits particular groups or individuals.
Which activities are proposed for cost recovery?
The Australian Government has agreed to introduce cost recovery arrangements for selected regulatory activities under the EPBC Act, including environmental impact assessments and some strategic assessments. Partial cost recovery for wildlife trade permits will continue, however, fees will increase to better reflect the cost of assessment services for permits.
Under the EPBC Act, those who generate the need for environmental regulation and use the assessment services of the department will bear the cost of providing these services.
Why is cost recovery necessary?
The introduction of cost recovery arrangements will enable assessment resources to keep pace with demand, as each proponent will pay for the services required to assess their application. Cost recovery will directly contribute to an overall improvement in the services provided.
Who does cost recovery apply to?
Cost recovery will apply to anyone who seeks a decision through national environmental law for wildlife trade regulation or environmental assessment. Cost recovery will apply equally to individuals, businesses, Commonwealth, state and local governments.
Will there be any exemptions or waivers?
There are different exemption and waiver criteria proposed for environmental impact assessments and wildlife trade regulation, the full details of which are outlined in the draft cost recovery impact statement (CRIS).
For environmental impact assessments, exemptions are proposed for small businesses with an annual turnover of $2 million or less. This exemption could apply to; small agricultural businesses, small tourism operators and small businesses that are conducting research and development.
It is proposed to allow for Ministerial discretion to waive fees for environmental impact assessments on a case by case basis, including for exceptional circumstances. The Minister would also have the right to refuse a fee waiver application at his or her discretion.
Current fee exemptions for wildlife trade permits will still apply. This will include instances where the applicant is the Commonwealth or a state or territory government. There are no waiver provisions proposed for wildlife trade permits.
There are no exemptions or waivers proposed for strategic assessments.
Does cost recovery guarantee approval?
No. Cost recovery does not guarantee approval under national environmental law, but it will contribute to making the assessment and decision making process more efficient. Cost recovery is being introduced to cover the cost of assessing applications and these costs are incurred whether or not the assessment is approved.
When are fees due to be paid under the new arrangements?
Fees must be paid prior to each part of the assessment process or service commencing.
For environmental assessments, the entire cost of a referral or an assessment will be identified at the start of the process. This cost will be broken down into a series of fee points, and each fee point must be paid prior to the commencement of the corresponding stage of the assessment process.
If the project is withdrawn, or otherwise does not commence, the proponent is not charged the fees associated with the remaining fee points. Fees already paid for completed assessment activities will not be refunded.
For wildlife trade, this means that fees must be paid before an application is assessed.
Will current projects being assessed be subject to fees when cost recovery commences?
Cost recovery arrangements will only apply to proposed actions referred to the department after 8 May 2012. Even then, fees will only apply to the assessment work or stages of the assessment process undertaken by the department after the commencement of cost recovery.
Fees will not be charged retrospectively for any stages of the assessment process that have already been completed.
When will fees be introduced?
Cost recovery for environmental impact assessment and strategic assessment cannot take effect until the passage of amending legislation and new regulations are made. The EPBC Act amendment Bill has yet to be introduced into Parliament. Timing for the introduction of the Bill is a matter for Government.
Cost recovery is already in place for some wildlife trade activities under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), such as wildlife trade permits. Cost recovery will continue for these activities, although the current fees will be increased.
For permits where there are currently no fees, no new fees are proposed.
What if I have some additional questions on the proposed cost recovery arrangements?
If you have any additional questions, please call the Departmental Community Information Unit on 1800 803 772 or email your query to the Cost Recovery Mailbox at: firstname.lastname@example.org