I received the following note from a policy officer at the Victorian Farmers Federation:
“This may be of interest as it relates directly to your work regarding the importance of scientific accountability. It’s an extract from the Victorian Farmers Federation’s 2006-07 Pre-Budget Submission to the Victorian State Government. It can be found at www.vff.org.au.
2.4 Expansion of the Auditor-General’s Office
Environmental policies which are adopted, implemented and funded by government should always be based on credible scientific data. Unfortunately, all too often, government decisions in relation to environmental issues are made on the basis of political imperatives, rather than substantiated scientific evidence.
The Victorian farm community is extremely concerned with this changing trend in government decision making, as we believe it is a nationwide phenomenon which is affecting governments of all political persuasions. While this disquiet was initially founded upon concerns about poor policy development, we are now becoming more worried about the increasing cost of implementing and maintaining questionable environmental policies based on limited scientific justification.
A recent example of this problem in practice is the current situation facing farmers in Victorian in regards to our State’s native vegetation regulations. To date, neither the policies nor the regulations have ever been thoroughly audited by any notable authority. Despite the government’s insistence on enforcing the regulations implementation, the farm community has never been informed of what the true cost of this policy is, and if there has been any genuine attempt to quantify the environmental benefits which are supposedly to have resulted from its implementation.
It is the view of the VFF that environmental policies such as this should be subjected to a cost-benefit analysis which would investigate the true price of maintaining such a policy, with comparisons made to the expected community value attributed to its ongoing enforcement. Unfortunately, while the farm community would warmly welcome such an initiative, no organisation within government is currently equipped or empowered to undertake such a task.
As a result, the VFF would like the State Government to expand the functions, mandate and powers of the Auditor-Generals Office so that it can conduct regular audits of the scientific environmental advice and outcomes provided to and overseen by Government departments, agencies and statutory authorities.
The Auditor-Generals Office currently reports ‘to parliament and the community on the efficient and effective management of public sector resources, and provides assurance on the financial integrity of Victoria’s system of government’. We believe that with adequate funding, support and direction, such an organisation would be ideally suited to conduct this important task.
That the State Government expand the functions, mandate and powers of the Auditor-General’s Office to include regular audits of:
1. The scientific environmental advice provided to Government by various agencies and statutory authorities, and;
2. The environmental outcomes achieved by Department initiated programs.”
This submission seems rather relevant in the context of the following recent blog posts:
1. Exaggerated salinity predictions and absence of auditing of spending on salinity.
2. Spending on environmental flows to the Macquarie marshes given the levies on private land preventing water getting to the southern and northern nature reserves.