Building a better regulatory framework was NICNASís main focus in 2006-07.

 

The framework, planned and instigated by NICNAS teams and through consultation with the NICNAS advisory committees, and by my predecessors in the role of Director, will serve us well as we develop our regulatory structures and processes Ė refining and enhancing them and making them more responsive.

 

Reforms to our systems have been across-the-board, comprising improvements to our regulatory processes, continued streamlining to our new chemical assessment processes and strengthening our compliance activities. The most significant of our regulatory reform activities over the past year has led to the re-alignment of the regulation of cosmetics as part of the broader Low Regulatory Concern Chemicals (LRCC) reform agenda. Our new chemical assessment processes have also been further streamlined and the potential for duplication of effort further reduced through the formalisation of our bilateral relationship with Canada. Our compliance activities have been facilitated, and become more timely, with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Australian Customs Service to provide regular information about imports of industrial chemicals.

 

One of the most significant, and potentially far reaching, achievements in the past year was the finalisation of the independent review of the program for managing chemicals that have existing uses in Australia, the so called existing chemicals. Government accepted the recommendations of this review, which will improve the prioritisation of chemicals for review, our communication and engagement activities and our assessment processes. When implemented, the changes will improve both the efficiency of our processes and result in more effective outcomes for the community, industry and government. Under the current processes for managing existing chemicals, we are now harnessing the benefits from our approach in recent years of considering categories of chemicals with our focus on certain flame retardants and the review and identification of phthalates of concern.

 

It has also been a year of change to NICNASís governance arrangements. In response to the Governmentís review of the corporate governance arrangements for statutory authorities and statutory office holders, a decision was taken to separate NICNAS, which has technical assessment and regulatory functions, from the Office of Chemical Safety, which undertakes chemical regulatory policy functions for industrial chemicals. This led to the creation of separate positions for the Directors of NICNAS and the Office of Chemical Safety. Dr Margaret Hartley, the former Director of NICNAS, took up the role of Director of the Office of Chemical Safety, and during a transition period, Dr Roshini Jayewardene acted as Director of NICNAS until my appointment in April 2007. The two groups continue to work closely and take advantage of their respective expertise and skills with the common focus on the assessment and management of chemicals in Australia.

 

These changes to our governance arrangements and leadership of the agency resulted in a period of uncertainty and were accompanied by some staffing movements, which led to a period of understaffing. While we continued to progress our core assessment, compliance and outreach work in a robust and timely manner, some projects were invariably delayed. These delays particularly impacted on the finalisation of the LRCC reforms and the timeframe for the reform of regulation of disinfectants. However, we expect that these projects will move forward in a timely way in 2007-08.

 

Throughout the past year we have continued to be well supported by our advisory groups, which are integral to our governance framework. Our advisory groups are also a key mechanism for linking to the broad range of our stakeholders across the spectrum of industry, the community and government, at both the national and state and territory levels. Our stakeholders and regulatory partners have been asked to contribute to a high extent over the past year as we have progressed the significant review and reform agenda, and I greatly appreciate the constructive and sound input.

 

The skills, expertise and commitment of our staff are crucial to the successful performance of our functions and we have continued to have a highly talented staff. Our staff displayed high levels of professionalism and resilience as the agency moved through a period of significant change over the past year. With many of these changes now behind us, we are looking forward to the challenges and opportunities of the coming year.