Greens NSW MP and Environment Spokesperson Dr Mehreen Faruqi MLC has said that the retirement of NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) head Mr Barry Buffier is an opportunity to reform the organisation, including by separating the role of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Chair of the Board and putting community representatives back on the Board. Dr Faruqi has written to the Minister for the Environment, Gabrielle Upton, requesting the change.
The NSW EPA’s governance structure, which has their CEO as the Chairperson of the Board, is quite different to other NSW public sector organisations as well as other EPAs across Australia, which have a separation of these roles. This structure risks leading to a conflict of interest as the Board is meant to provide independent oversight of the CEO. A 2015 Parliamentary Inquiry into the performance of the NSW Environment Protection Authority, on which Dr Mehreen Faruqi MLC sat, recommended that the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (POEO Act) be amended to provide for the appointment of a Chairperson of the Board independent of the CEO.
“Against the recommendations of their own inquiry in 2011, the NSW Liberals and Nationals removed community representatives and local government from the board of the EPA which has only undermined community trust in the independence of the organisation. Now is the perfect time to admit that was a huge mistake and include the community in oversight of the EPA” — Dr Mehreen Faruqi MLC
The Greens are also calling for community representatives to be put back on the Board. When the EPA was constituted as an independent entity following the release of carcinogenic chemicals from Orica’s plant at Kooragang Island in 2011, the NSW Government ignored the recommendation of Mr Brendan O’Reilly, former Director General of the Department of Premier and Cabinet to include “representatives from community interests” and removed community and local government representatives from the board.
Separating the CEO and Chair of the Board roles as well as putting community representatives back on the Board would go a long way to restoring community faith in the integrity and independence of the EPA, which has been perceived as being too close to industry.
“The changing of the guard at the EPA is the perfect opportunity for the NSW Government to address the recommendations of the parliamentary inquiry into the EPA to separate the roles of the CEO and chair of the Board,” Greens NSW MP and Environment Spokesperson, Dr Faruqi MLC, said.
“We know that the communities around the state have ongoing concerns with the performance of the EPA so this would go a long way to restoring some trust. Against the recommendations of their own inquiry in 2011, the NSW Liberals and Nationals removed community representatives and local government from the board of the EPA which has only undermined community trust in the independence of the organisation. Now is the perfect time to admit that was a huge mistake and include the community in oversight of the EPA,” Dr Faruqi added, concluding that the state needs a tough environmental regulator willing to take on big polluters.
“Let’s reform and strengthen the EPA for the sake of the environment and community health,” she said.