The new Coalition government has moved to unlock what it claims are resource construction projects which have been left in limbo by a change in the law under the former Labour government which mandates extra assessments to ensure projects do not negatively impact water resources.
In a statement, Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt says he has considered the application of the new ‘water trigger’ to 50 large coal mine and coal seam gas developments currently being assessed under national environment law.
Of these, 47 would require Federal assessment of the water impact, whilst the new laws would not apply to one and he was seeking further information on two others.
In a statement, Hunt accused the former government of leaving the projects, which had already been in the process of assessment when Labour introduced the new law at the end of June and whose treatment since then had been uncertain, in an unnecessary state of limbo.
“It was quite astonishing to think the previous Labor Government in its dying days would grind industry to a halt by introducing this legislation only to leave them in limbo for months for someone else to make the decision” Hunt said.
The moves come amid ongoing complaints on the part of the resource industry about developments being held up by what they see as unduly burdensome environmental approval processes.
A report released in July by the Minerals Council of Australia claims that over the past seven years, the industry has had to cope with no fewer than 120 changes to state and federal government approval laws and supporting legislation, six new pieces of legislation, 60 sets of amendments to laws relating to project approvals, and 50 sets of additions and amendments to subordinate legislations, regulations and codes of practice.
Minerals Council of Australia chief executive officer Mitch Hooke applauded the latest moves, but says it remains unfortunate the 47 projects for which the water trigger would apply will now be subject to further ‘unnecessary’ delay.
“It is profoundly disappointing that the new Minister is in a position where he is required under laws established by the previous Parliament to send these projects for assessment under the water trigger” Hooke says.
“It is an unnecessary, duplicative piece of legislation introduced by the last Parliament for political rather than environmental purposes.”
The moves were also welcomed by a key environmental group, with Lock the Gate Alliance campaigner Carmel Flint saying the projects in question had been subject to uncertainty as to whether or not they would be assessed under the new law and the decision to do so was sensible and welcome.
But Flint challenged the government to apply rigour to assessment and decision making, saying the decision to assess the projects was at odds with what she says has been a combative approach on the part of the Coalition toward regional communities opposed to coal and gas mining.
The latest moves come as the Coalition earlier this week reached a draft memorandum of understanding with the Queensland government to create a streamlined ‘one-stop-shop’ process for environmental approvals in that state.
The government came into office with a promise to slash $1 billion in costs associated with red and green tape.