Premier must strip Minister Upton of responsibility for the EPA

In Parliament | 28.06.18

The NSW Labor Opposition is calling for the Premier to intervene and strip responsibility for the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) from Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton after today’s damning report from NSW Auditor-General Margaret Crawford found that the EPA is failing to fulfil its basic functions to properly regulate and monitor licences that impact on NSW drinking water supplies, and failing to stop illegal dumping.

The report indicates that these failures could harm the environment and risk human health.

The performance audit report Regulation of Water Pollution of Drinking Water Catchments and Illegal Disposal of Waste reported that:

  • These deficiencies [identified in the report] mean that the EPA cannot be confident that it conducts compliance and enforcement activities consistently across the State and that licensees are complying with their licence conditions or the Act. (p1)
  • The EPA also does not monitor the consistency or quality of its regulatory activities conducted across the State. (p2, analysis on p11)
  • The EPA cannot be sure that correct licence conditions have been set for discharges into water. (p2, analysis on p16)
  • The triennial 2016 Audit of Sydney Drinking Water Catchment report, identified that Lake Burragorang had experienced worsening water quality over the past 20 years due to increased salinity. The report recommended that the sources and implications of the increased salinity levels be investigated. To date, no NSW Government agency has addressed the report's recommendation. (p2, analysis on p18)
  • The EPA’s unreliable detection practices, and weaknesses in its governance approach, limits its effectiveness to consistently apply regulatory action. (p3, analysis on p13)
  • Given our finding that the EPA does not effectively detect breaches and non-compliances, there is a risk that it is not applying appropriate regulatory actions for many breaches and non-compliances. (p30)
  • The EPA did not achieve the strategy target of a 30 per cent reduction over four years in instances of large scale illegal dumping in Sydney, the Illawarra, Hunter and Central Coast from 2011 levels. (p3, analysis on p33)
  • The EPA does limited monitoring of its performance in protecting the environment. (p4, analysis on p14)

The Auditor-General made seven recommendations to address the EPA’s deficiencies. The only way these recommendations can be addressed is if the current Minister is not in charge of implementing them.

Quotes attributable to Shadow Minister for the Environment Penny Sharpe

“Rarely do Auditor-General's reports come as damning as this one. 

“This report has found that NSW’s environment protection agency cannot fulfil its basic functions – functions that the community relies on to protect our environment and human health. 

“When an agency does not know how much pollution is going into our waterways, when the quality of our drinking water is declining, when illegal dumping is increasing and when clear breaches or deliberate pollution are occurring and the agency is doing nothing, it is time for the Premier to step in. 

“The Minister for the Environment is clearly not capable of fixing the problems within the EPA. The Premier must intervene, strip the Minister of this portfolio responsibility and put in place a Minister who can urgently address the issues raised by the Auditor-General’s report.”