08/10/2008 - 22:00

Agency system stifles process – report

08/10/2008 - 22:00

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INDUSTRY groups in Western Australia have welcomed an Auditor General's report critical of the government's approvals process, saying the issues raised highlight an urgent need for change.

Agency system stifles process – report

INDUSTRY groups in Western Australia have welcomed an Auditor General's report critical of the government's approvals process, saying the issues raised highlight an urgent need for change.

The report, tabled in Parliament this week by Auditor General Colin Murphy, said that a $37.4 million commitment by the Carpenter government has failed to improve the state's resource approvals process and that it lacked consistency.

Mr Murphy said despite 75 per cent of the funds already being spent on trying to make the process simpler and more streamlined, uncertainties for companies remained and decisions were being made too slowly.

"We didn't find that there were any steps or agencies in the approvals process that were unnecessary, but what we found is that there is an opportunity for things to be done by agencies simultaneously," Mr Murphy told WA Business News.

"Proponents need to deal with multiple agencies and what we've found in the approvals system, particularly processing, is that agencies are waiting on another agency to complete their process instead on completing certain jobs at the same time, so there's this lag."

Mr Murphy examined the roles of the departments of industry and resources, environment and conservation, indigenous affairs, planning and infrastructure and the Office of Development Approvals Coordination.

He found it was difficult to track resource projects across the various government agencies, which do not report on the time taken for the whole approvals process.

Since 2003, WA Labor committed the funds on the back of a Keating government review to create a more efficient approvals process and to provide greater certainty for proponents so they became aware of the steps, requirements and timelines.

Mr Murphy said there was too much ambiguity within the approvals process and that if decisions continued to lag, companies would likely undertake development projects elsewhere.

He also called for greater transparency of the criteria used by agencies to determine which projects received special assistance with the approvals process and how much assistance was provided.

"It needs to be made more clearly what is required for a project to get this assistance," Mr Murphy said.

He also noted that there was limited forward planning to anticipate resource development and clarify regional and state development priorities.

"More forward planning would provide guidance to miners and agencies when considering potential environmental, economic and social impact on a specific region," Mr Murphy said.

WA's peak business organisation, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA, called on the new state government to take on board the shortcomings listed by Mr Murphy's report.

"Business and industry is particularly concerned that the Auditor General has found that several recent attempts to improve the system, costing tens of millions of dollars, have failed to deliver," CCIWA said in a statement.

Chamber of Minerals & Energy chief executive Reg Howard-Smith also welcomed the report, saying CME had long promoted intensive reforms to deliver greater certainty and timeliness of government decisions.

"The reports findings now clearly recognise what the CME has been saying to government for some time - that resources companies continue to experience significant delay when dealing with the Western Australian approval process," he said.

However, the Conservation Council has called on the state government to ensure the integrity of environmental assessment processes would not be compromised for the sake of accelerating resource development.

Conservation Council director Piers Verstegen said the not-for-profit organisation had been working with the Environmental Protection Authority and industry stakeholders over the past six months to identify improvements in the environmental impact assessment process.

"Thorough environmental assessment processes do not represent a barrier for resource companies doing the right thing. It's only those companies that want to cut corners on their environmental performance that would be frustrated by a rigorous process," Mr Verstegen said.

Mines and Petroleum Minister Norman Moore used the report to attack Labor, saying it was "a damning indictment of the previous government's failure to provide certainty and consistency in relation to resource projects approvals".

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