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Hon. Warwick L. Smith LLB, June 2002
The Australian Greenhouse Office is a world first in terms of the establishment of an office dedicated to the abatement of greenhouse gases. Many submissions noted that this institutional arrangement provided an effective focal point for the communication and promotion of the Government's position on climate change policies internationally.
Invariability with reviews of this nature there is a tendency for stakeholders to focus on areas where improvement is sought. This can lead to a negative overall impression of performance. Accordingly, the following comments should be prefaced by the observation that many submissions noted good and open consultative arrangements, and the acknowledgement that AGO conducts its business in a highly professional manner. A number of submissions, particularly from the industry sector expressed high regard for the Greenhouse Challenge and Mandatory Renewable Energy Target initiatives and general acknowledgement that AGO programs had provided positive outcomes.
The most commonly raised issue across all sectors was the need for the AGO to develop a whole of government approach to greenhouse issues. A perception was expressed that the AGO had not developed a clear practice for addressing competing policy goals, nor for leveraging complementary outcomes. Similarly, submissions suggested that there was a need for the AGO to be involved in other areas of government policy and for the AGO to facilitate greater coordination across government on climate change issues. Views from both the Commonwealth government and business and environmental sectors suggested that a more pluralistic approach to climate change issues was required to achieve engagement across government and all sectors. However, the advantages of a central structure on the coordination of greenhouse responses were also noted.
Some submissions from industry and the Commonwealth government indicated that the AGO is perceived as being an environmental agency. A number suggested that this imbalance could be addressed by locating the AGO in the Department of Industry Science and Resources or Prime Minister and Cabinet.
There was general industry consensus that further consultation is required during the earliest stages of policy formulation and program design to ensure that negative externalities on industry and business are minimised. Submissions also noted the need to more effectively engage the community on climate change issues. Industry submissions noted that Australia's national interest should be primary and that climate change policy should not impact upon Australia's competitiveness. There was also the suggestion that the AGO did not understand industry and had failed to engage the rural sector and regional communities. A number of institutional suggestions were offered including, but not limited to, an external industry Advisory Board, and a government industry task force at the CEO-ministerial level.
A common issue raised by all sectors, (with the exception of the Commonwealth government) is that there is a perceived lack of coordination between the Commonwealth and states on climate changes issues and that jurisdictional differences in programmes and initiatives is inefficient and inequitable and detrimental to the interests of business and industry.
A common issue raised by industry and business sectors was that there was a need to split policy and program activities, with the AGO focusing on policy development and line Departments delivering relevant programs. A view was also expressed that the AGO had also taken on a regulatory role and that lines of accountability were unclear. A number of Commonwealth Departments expressed a view that they would have an advantage over the AGO in delivering programs relevant to specific sectors, such as industry, transport, agriculture, forests and fisheries. They also expressed a view that they would have greater credibility with their respective sectoral interest groups.
Commonwealth Departments rated the AGO's performance on international issues relatively highly but suggested that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade should take the lead in any international negotiations regarding climate change issues, with the AGO providing a supporting role. There was some criticism of the development of domestic programs in respect to particular sectors, principally industry, transport and to a lesser extent agriculture, forests and fisheries. A number of Commonwealth government departments expressed concern regarding the lack of AGO emphasis on fostering long term investment on adaptation issues in favour of short-term political objectives.
Industry submissions expressed the view that a lack of government leadership on climate change issues is hampering responses to greenhouse issues and that there was a need to develop a national action plan on climate change issues. A related view expressed by industry was that as a consequence the AGO lack strategic direction.