The federal and New South Wales Governments have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to work toward a one-stop shop for environmental approvals.
In a joint statement, Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Premier of New South Wales Barry O’Farrell announced on Tuesday that the two governments had signed a Memorandum of Understanding under which their respective environment ministers will work to create a bilateral agreement which will deliver a one-stop shop for environmental approvals.
Both governments said the move, which follows a similar MOU signed between the federal and Queensland governments in September, would not weaken environmental protection but would deliver faster decisions and greater certainty while encouraging investment and creating jobs.
“A one-stop shop will eliminate duplication, deliver more timely approvals and enable Australian businesses to expedite their work,” the statement read. “It will mean only one approval is needed, not two.”
Business groups welcomed the development, with New South Wales Minerals Council CEO Stephen Galilee saying it will promote confidence and help the state compete with other jurisdictions for investment.
The Greens Party, however, slammed the move, saying it would effectively ‘gut’ environmental protection in the states.
"After already signing up Queensland, Tony Abbott is laying the groundwork to hand federal environmental approval powers to New South Wales, giving his conservative state cronies open slather over our nationally significant environmental assets,” Australian Greens environment spokesman Senator Larissa Waters said, adding that if states had had these kind of powers in the past, the Franklin River would be dammed, cattle would be grazing in the Alpine National Park and the Great Barrier Reef would be littered with oil rigs.
"At a time when many of our most iconic species are on the brink of extinction, our environment laws need strengthening not slashing.”
The latest moves come amid long-standing calls by business groups for approval processes to be simplified, saying unduly long approval times were driving up project construction costs.
Approvals for a much-needed Pacific Highway upgrade between Warrell Creek and Nambucca Heads, for example, took no less than eight years before being signed off in July 2011.
However, talks between federal and state governments for a streamlined ‘one-stop shop’ process at Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meetings under which all project approvals would be administered by a single state agency broke down earlier this year, ostensibly amid concern on the part of then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard that shifting federal powers to the states and territories would create the potential for legal challenges regarding approvals which were granted.
Since coming to power, the Coalition government has been pursuing bilateral agreements for streamlined processes with individual states.
Abbott and O'Farrell say they are hoping to reach a final agreement within the next twelve months.