The Abbott Government is closing in on a deal with Queensland to create a ‘one-stop-shop’ for environmental approvals for major resource and infrastructure construction projects, the new federal environment minister says.
Following talks with his counterpart in the Newman government last night, Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt said ‘preliminary points of agreement’ had been reached on creating a ‘one-stop-shop’ for environmental approvals.
“We each have to take those back to our respective governments,” Mr Hunt told ABC TV on Monday night.
The latest moves follow election promises by the Abbott government to reduce the annual cost to business of red-tape and green-tape by at least $1 billion.
The need to streamline approval processes has been a common refrain among industry groups, who complain about undue delays and cost blowouts amid unduly burdensome approval processes.
According to the Minerals Council of Australia, for example, average approval times for thermal coal projects currently sit at 3.1 years – almost double the international average of 1.8 years.
The idea of creating a ‘one-stop-shop’ – most likely achieved by the federal government transferring its powers in this area to the states, who would administer a single approval process for all projects as opposed to project owners requiring approval at both state and federal level – is supported by industry groups on the basis that it would remove unnecessary duplication but staunchly opposed by some environment groups over fears it would result in a watering down of environmental processes and controls.
The former Gillard government put a proposal to do just that before the Council of Australia Governments last year but later withdrew the idea amid a breakdown in negotiations and concerns the moves would actually create further uncertainty for business.
Hunt says it is important to maintain robust environmental standards but this did not negate the need for faster decisions and was possible to achieve whilst simultaneously reducing federal-state duplication.