This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Mar 10, 2018 as "AELERT and alarmed" and is published here with their permission.
By Tanya M. Howard, research fellow at the Australian Centre for Agriculture and Law, University of New England, NSW.
Environmental regulation is a tough field. Incidents can erupt into public awareness, such as the Hazelwood mine fire in Victoria, or the chemical contamination at Williamtown RAAF Base in New South Wales. In times of crisis, the need for strong environmental regulations and a professional, well-resourced workforce to enforce them is clear. But the majority of environmental crime doesn’t make it to the front page of the newspaper. Polluted rivers, contaminated aquifers, smuggled wildlife and choking air pollution – these are the “repeat offenders” of routine environmental crime, and they are harder to address in regional or remote locations where public impacts are limited.
It is in this mind that I am at the annual environmental regulators conference in Sydney. I am here to take the pulse on the frontline experience of environmental regulation in Australia. As an industry outsider, I want to understand more about the lived experience of designing and implementing environmental regulation. I am also curious to gauge the impact of the 2014 murder of NSW compliance officer Glen Turner on the activities of environmental regulators on the ground. This tragic event led to a criminal trial and a murder conviction for Ian Turnbull, a well-known Moree landholder who had in the preceding years been repeatedly investigated for illegal land clearing. In 2017, the NSW Coroner ordered an inquest into Glen Turner’s death, the date of which is yet to be announced. The inquest is intended to help better understand the risks faced by officers such as Turner.
Environmental protection authorities and a wide variety of environment departments exist in all jurisdictions and prosecute breaches of state and territory legislation, with their federal counterparts responsible for enforcing federal law.
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