On 24 July 2020, the National Cabinet agreed to move to ‘single-touch’ environmental approvals underpinned by national environmental standards for Commonwealth environmental matters.
In announcing the news, Prime Minister Scott Morrison detailed that some states will be able to transition to this system faster than others.
“The Commonwealth will move immediately to enter into bilateral approval agreements and interim standards with the states that are able to progress now,” he said.
“We will simultaneously be developing formal national standards through further public consultation.”
The National Cabinet also endorsed a list of 15 major projects for which Commonwealth environmental approvals will be fast-tracked.
“For major projects at the start of the approvals process, we will target a 50 per cent reduction in Commonwealth assessment and approval times for major projects, from an average of 3.5 years to 21 months,” Mr Morrison said.
“For major projects which are already at an advanced stage of assessment, governments will seek to progress them through the process as fast as possible and within statutory timeframes.”
Joint assessment teams are expected to commence work on accelerating these projects, which are worth over $72 billion in public and private investment and will support more than 66,000 direct and indirect jobs.
The Chamber of Minerals and Energy of Western Australia (CME) welcomed the news, stating that National Cabinet’s decision to adopt a single-touch process for environmental approvals will cut excessive waiting times for mining project approvals and boosts the efforts of Western Australia’s resources sector to help repair the nation’s finances.
CME Director of Policy and Advocacy, Rob Carruthers, said Western Australia will lead all states and territories in assuming responsibility for a ‘single touch’ approvals process under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), which will significantly streamline duplicative approval processes.
“The Treasurer and Finance Minister yesterday (23 July) clearly reinforced the importance of WA’s resources sector in underpinning the strength of the nation’s economy through the COVID-19 crisis, with the sector’s strong export volumes providing much-needed income for the nation,” he said.
“We welcome the commitment for ‘single touch’ environmental approvals, which will help bring forward capital investment and new jobs from the estimated $91 billion of prospective mining and oil and gas projects in WA,” Mr Carruthers commented.
Mr Carruthers also acknowledged the role of the Assistant Minister for Deregulation, Ben Morton, in driving regulatory efficiency across the federation.
While recognising that a high standard of approvals was essential for ensuring robust environmental outcomes, Mr Carruthers said the current inefficient approval processes that companies had to navigate was holding the sector back rather than allowing it to grow and remain internationally competitive.
“Successive government-led reviews have 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,” he advised.
“Last month, it was revealed that delays to approvals for projects under the Commonwealth EPBC Act cost industry $300 million in 2019.”
“This new system of streamlined approvals will assist the sector’s efforts to facilitate job creation and aid the future expansion of the mining and oil and gas industries.”