Faster approvals on the cards

A REWORK of planning approvals is being developed to help miners get projects going more quickly and help speed up Australia’s economic recovery.
Faster approvals on the cards Faster approvals on the cards Faster approvals on the cards Faster approvals on the cards Faster approvals on the cards

Scott Morrison speaking at the CEDA State of the Nation conference.

Speaking at the Committee for the Economic Development of Australia's State of the Nation Conference Australian prime minister Scott Morrison said the government was determined to speed up progress by improving approvals processes.

He is hoping to get to a point where mining projects face "single touch approvals" rather than separate state and federal processes.

To help speed up that deregulation process Morrison is bringing the Deregulation Taskforce into the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

A priority list for faster approvals has been created and it includes BHP's Olympic Dam uranium mine expansion and Western Australian iron ore projects.

The faster approvals move has been welcomed by the mining industry, which is keen to get its projects up and running as quickly as possible.

The move comes as yet another Queensland coal mining project is facing difficulties getting the approvals it needs to keep its mine going, which could cost about 300 jobs.

New Hope Coal's New Acland Stage 3 project has been trying to fight its way through the approvals process for about 13 years.

Morrison said one way the government could help streamline approvals was through the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

"According to departmental estimates, delays associated with these approvals alone cost industry more than $300 million just in 2019," he said.

"That's not good enough."

Morrison said the government had already taken steps to cut project approval times under the EPBC Act.

"At the end of 2019, approval decisions took 90 days on average," he said.

"Today they take 40. That is what we've achieved this year in 2020.

"Our goal is to cut these times by a further 25% by the end of this year - to 30 days for major projects.

"Ultimately our objective is the streamlining of federal and state processes to a point of ‘single touch approvals'.

The National Cabinet has had already - early discussions on how we can achieve this objective, and there is already, I can assure you, a high level of engagement and agreement."

A review of the EPBC Act by Graeme Samuel is due to report shortly and the National Cabinet will use that report in its assessment of how the act can be changed.

Morrison said changing the federal approvals process would not do much if state processes were not addressed.

He announced 15 major projects that were on the fast-track for approval under a bilateral model between the federal government, states and territories.

The priority list includes:

  • The Olympic Dam extension in South Australia;
  • Road, rail and iron ore projects in WA;
  • Inland Rail from Melbourne to Brisbane;
  • The Marinus Link between Tasmania and Victoria; and
  • Emergency town water projects in New South Wales.

 "Joint assessment teams will work on accelerating these projects worth more than $72 billion in public and private investment," Morrison said.

"Projects that will support more than 66,000 direct and indirect jobs.

"Under our new approach this investment, and most importantly these jobs, will be brought to market earlier by targeting a 50% reduction in federal assessment and approval times for major projects from an average of 3.5 years to 21 months."

Minerals Council of Australia CEO Tania Constable said Morrison's commitment to address assessment and approval process delays would help Australia's minerals industry create more jobs more quickly.

"Faster approvals for mines and other major projects will support the investment and jobs Australia needs to recover more quickly from the COVID-19 pandemic," she said.

"Australia's environmental approval processes can be improved and better integrated while preserving environmental standards and meeting community expectations.

"Specialised teams to coordinate the federal, state and territory assessments and clearer processes will improve business certainty and address delays.

"The government is to be commended for moving quickly after calls by the MCA and others to create jobs while protecting the environment.

"All governments should continue with positive reforms as a matter of urgency to support regional communities while encouraging investment through best-practice regulation."

Chamber of Minerals and Energy of WA chief executive Paul Everingham said Morrison's pledge of "single touch approvals" as well as providing special status for iron ore projects would aid job creation and the sector's future expansion.

"The federal government has previously admitted the resources sector was being held back by complex layers of state and federal regulations, making it harder than ever to get new resources projects off the ground," Everingham said.

"Today's announcement of a single touch approvals system and the aim to cut approval times for major projects by the end of this year from the current 40 days to 30 days is welcome relief for WA's mining and resources sector.

"While a high standard of approvals is essential for environmental outcomes, the current inefficient and duplicative processes that our mining and oil and gas members have to navigate is holding the sector back, rather than allowing it to grow and remain internationally competitive."

Everingham said the CMEWA also welcomed the decision to transfer the deregulation taskforce into the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet to drive a whole of government approach as to how regulatory policy was prosecuted.

Queensland Resources Council chief executive Ian Macfarlane also welcomed Morrison's commitments to approvals process improvements.

"By streamlining approval and assessment processes for resource and energy projects, industry can create thousands more jobs, and billions of dollars more in investment, jobs and royalties for Queensland," he said.