Approvals for new mining construction projects are being bogged down in complex approval processes, the country’s peak resource industry lobby group says.

Released last week, a report by engineering, construction, and technical service consultants URS Australia for the Minerals Council of Australia shows that compared to 2006, there have been more 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 says the results are disappointing in light of commitments from all levels of government to streamline environmental requirements and compliance processes.

“In December 2007, the Council of Australian Government’s (COAG) Business Regulation And Competition Working Group agreed to pursue a national approach to red and green tape with the objective of ensuring ‘no net increase in the regulatory burden,’” he says. “It appears little progress has been made in pursuit of this goal.”

The report, which calls for ‘less words and more action’ says that while efforts to reduce the compliance burden have been well intentioned, the approval process had become more politicised.

Furthermore, in many cases the ‘problems’ or market failures the regulatory changes were designed to redress had not been clearly defined and commitments by governments to reduce red/green tape had resulted not in genuine efficiency reforms but rather a plethora of review processes.

Other conclusions in the report are as follows:

  • Mining is subject to more regulatory requirements than most, if not all, other economic activities
  • The creation of Independent Expert Panels has the potential to undermine the confidence in existing approvals processes
  • Offices of Best Practice Regulation become involved too late to have a significant influence on the development of policy initiatives and associated regulatory measures
  • The loss of capacity, capability and competency within government agencies has impacted adversely on the ability to make the right regulatory decision in a timely manner

The latest report follows Coalition promises earlier this month to slash red tape if it comes into power – a move welcomed by business but greeted with caution from many environmental lobby groups, who fear a watering down of genuine environmental requirements for new projects.

In a survey released last week, reducing compliance was rated by the construction industry as the top policy priority in the upcoming election.

Hooke says the time has come for governments to ‘get serious’ about improving the nation’s regulatory environment.

“This does not mean less scrutiny nor should it mean lower environmental standards, it means more efficient and effective oversight” Hooke says. “It also means less words and more action from all levels of government,” he says.