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Chemicals and Plastics Regulation

Research report

This research report was released on 7 August 2008.

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  • Key points
  • Media release
  • Contents
  • Chemicals and plastics contribute to our wellbeing, but some can pose substantial risks to health and the environment. Government intervention to manage risks is warranted where benefits materially exceed costs.
  • Chemicals regulations are generally grafted onto (differing) state and territory Acts that deal with public health, workplace safety, transport safety, environment protection and national security.
  • Current regimes are broadly effective in managing risks to health and safety, but are less effective in managing risks to the environment and national security. Efficiency can be improved through national uniformity in most areas.
  • The Commission proposes building a governance framework that enhances national uniformity by addressing failures at four levels.
  • Level 1 - policy development and regime oversight. A national function through ministerial councils supported by intergovernmental agreements:
    • chemicals policy coordination should be supported by an officer-level, cross council standing committee on chemicals.
  • Level 2 - assessment of chemical hazards and risks. An Australian Government science-based function undertaken under statutory independence:
    • the industrial chemicals agency should undertake assessments, not set risk management standards.
  • Level 3 - risk management standards setting. A national function by expert member agencies operating within the policy frameworks of the ministerial councils:
    • poisons scheduling should be separated from drugs
    • maximum residue levels for domestically produced foods that are set by APVMA should be automatically included in the food standards code, with right of change by FSANZ and the Australia and NZ Food Regulation Ministerial Council
    • while replacement of the workplace safety agency (ASCC) by an independent agency is supported, it should not be a tripartite representative body
    • the effectiveness of new model regulations for transport needs to be monitored
    • an environmental risk management standards body should be established
    • risk management of chemicals of security concern (including ammonium nitrate) should adopt the Commission's governance framework.
  • Level 4 - administration and enforcement. Generally jurisdiction specific:
    • all standards should be adopted in a uniform or nationally consistent manner by administering agencies
    • control of use of agvet chemicals should be consolidated under the APVMA but delivered through service level agreements by the states and territories.
  • Australia should defer adopting the Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of chemicals until the benefits from trade can be demonstrated.

A national approach to chemicals and plastics regulation in Australia would reduce unnecessary costs for industry and improve compliance, according to a report released today by the Productivity Commission.

Commissioner Mike Woods said, 'While the regulatory framework has been reasonably effective in achieving public health, workplace safety, environment protection and national security goals, there are many inefficiencies. Governments have regulated chemicals in different ways, even though the hazards and risks they pose vary little across the country, and this has resulted in unnecessary complexity under our federal system'.

The report responds to a request by the Australian Government to examine the effectiveness and efficiency of the regulatory framework, and to provide input to a special Ministerial Taskforce that has been asked to develop a streamlined system of chemicals and plastics regulation. COAG has already agreed to a number of recommendations contained in the Commission's draft report, which was released in March this year.

Key recommendations in the final report include:

  • establishment of a standing committee on chemicals to promote consistency in chemicals related policy settings across portfolios
  • giving the scheduling of poisons the separate consideration it warrants
  • consolidation of control-of-use regulation of agricultural and veterinary products under the APVMA, but delivered through service level agreements by the states and territories
  • avoiding placing other chemicals of security concern under the current inconsistent framework used to regulate security sensitive ammonium nitrate.

As a general principle, the Commission considers that standard setting is best undertaken by expert-based, rather than representative, bodies. In light of this, the Commission remains concerned about the tripartite structure of the body that is to replace the Australian Safety and Compensation Council.

The Commission proposes a four-tiered governance model for chemicals and plastics regulations, which would allow all governments to participate in developing and implementing regulation. The standards would be flexible enough to accommodate circumstances facing individual governments, while achieving national uniformity in many instances.

Background information

Leonora Nicol (Media, Publications and Web) 02 6240 3239 / 0417 665 443

  • Preliminaries
    Cover, Copyright, Foreword, Terms of reference, Contents, Abbreviations and Glossary
  • Overview
  • Recommendations
  • Additional actionable proposals
  • Chapter 1 What is this study about?
    1.1 What the Commission has been asked to do
    1.2 Why was it initiated?
    1.3 Scope of the study
    1.4 How is this study linked to other reviews?
    1.5 Conduct of the study
  • Chapter 2 Study methodology and evaluative criteria
    2.1 The rationale for regulation
    2.2 Interpretation of assessment criteria
    2.3 Applying the assessment criteria
  • Chapter 3 National policy formulation and system governance
    3.1 Background
    3.2 A best practice governance framework
    3.3 Policy development and regime oversight
    3.4 Developing a national chemicals policy
  • Chapter 4 National hazard and risk assessment
    4.1 The case for regulatory assessment of chemicals
    4.2 Regulatory arrangements for industrial chemicals
    4.3 Effectiveness and efficiency of industrial chemicals assessment
    4.4 Consolidation of chemical assessment regimes
  • Chapter 5 Public health
    5.1 Poisons scheduling and regulation
    5.2 Controls on chemicals in consumer articles
    5.3 Labelling requirements for consumer products
    5.4 Diversion of chemicals to illicit-drug manufacture
    5.5 Food safety
  • Chapter 6 Occupational health and safety
    6.1 The case for regulating workplace chemicals
    6.2 The regulatory framework
    6.3 Effectiveness of workplace chemicals regulations
    6.4 Efficiency of workplace chemicals regulations
    6.5 A single system for all workplace chemicals
    6.6 Reforms to the national OHS framework
  • Chapter 7 Transport safety
    7.1 The case for regulating the transport of dangerous chemicals
    7.2 The current regulatory framework
    7.3 Assessment of current regulations
    7.4 Options for reform
  • Chapter 8 Regulation of agricultural and veterinary chemical products
    8.1 Regulatory arrangements for agricultural and veterinary chemicals
    8.2 Effectiveness and efficiency of agricultural and veterinary chemicals assessment
    8.3 The case for national regulation of agricultural and veterinary chemical use
  • Chapter 9 Managing the impact of chemicals on the environment
    9.1 The case for regulating for the environment
    9.2 Overview of regulatory arrangements
    9.3 The effectiveness and efficiency of environmental protection regulation
    9.4 A Framework for National Chemicals Environmental Management
  • Chapter 10 National security: regulation of ammonium nitrate
    10.1 The case for regulating ammonium nitrate
    10.2 The principles and practices of regulating ammonium nitrate in Australia
    10.3 Assessing the SSAN regulatory regime
    10.4 Improving the SSAN arrangements
    10.5 Addressing the security risks associated with other chemicals
  • Chapter 11 Reforming national approaches
    11.1 Introduction
    11.2 National approaches to chemicals policy
    11.3 The way ahead
  • Appendix A Conduct of the Study
  • Appendix B Industry definition
  • Appendix C History and economic profile of the industry
  • Appendix D Major hazard facilities
  • Appendix E Compliance and administration cost
  • Appendix F Funding mechanisms for chemicals and plastics regulatory agencies
  • Appendix G Labelling
  • References

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