01/11/2005 - 21:00

Approval for government’s resources move

01/11/2005 - 21:00

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The Gallop government’s move to streamline the approvals process for resources developments is a welcome, albeit belated response to a critical issue in this state – making sure we maximise benefit from the boom we are experiencing.

The Gallop government’s move to streamline the approvals process for resources developments is a welcome, albeit belated response to a critical issue in this state – making sure we maximise benefit from the boom we are experiencing.

This is something industry has been calling for, for some time, with significant support from this newspaper.

In September last year we made it a cover story (see right), as miners warned that the good news of high commodity prices driving new projects could turn sour if the skills shortage and bureaucratic delays caused investors to turn elsewhere.

It would be fair to say that that warning was heeded to some degree with the then state development minister (now on the BHP payroll) Clive Brown establishing a Projects Approval Coordination Unit in line with the recommendations of the Keating Review of the Project Development Approvals System.

However, that was clearly not enough for industry.

Earlier this year both incoming Wesfarmers chief Richard Goyder and the influential head of Alcoa’s Australian operations warned the government that the cost of regulation was high and it risked killing off the state’s entrepreneur-ialism and chasing projects away.

Clearly, the government lagged industry in this area.

Just how much is shown in Liberal leader Matt Birney’s decision to make streamlining the approvals process a key policy for the opposition.

Here are a few extracts from Mr Birney’s speech to the recent Liberal Party state conference.

“The laws and regulations governing the building of any major project in this state have become so onerous that many potential developers are simply throwing their hands up in the air and saying this is all too hard.

“It doesn’t matter whether you are dealing with the EPA, the DEP, the Department of Planning or the Department of Indigenous Affairs; you are going to come across an onerous, unnecessary deal breaking regulation eventually in this state that will sink your project.

“We will eliminate the ‘department shopping’ approvals merry-go-round that is currently mandatory for anyone wanting to spend money in our state.

“In government we will explore the concept of ‘lead agencies’ providing all approvals for projects.

“Perhaps even more importantly, we will introduce much stricter time limits and introduce time limits where they don’t exist for approvals where they don’t exist across all departments in order to provide absolute certainty for proponents.”

All in all a pretty succinct policy job, in my opinion.

Given Premier Geoff Gallop’s announcement this week, it would appear he has realised that the Liberals could make political mileage out of this issue. Not to mention the fact that a government relying on royalties and a buoyant economy would be biting the hand that feeds it if it did not react.

That became especially clear when, a week or so ago, we reported that some economists welcomed delays to major projects because they could smooth the development pipeline.

It was like every cloud has a silver lining … and it must have set off alarm bells in government.

Economic booms are not something you can smooth out and control like some sort of Soviet five-year plan.

You have to take advantage of them when they are here, because investors – even multinational companies – operate on emotion and need confidence to give a project the green light. Lose that and you have nothing.

The government, to its credit, has gone above what I thought were the expectations of industry.

Bringing approvals under the banner of Premier and Cabinet is significant. Providing $25 million to fund this policy is sound. Being public with time lines is the only way to make individual departments accountable. And appointing ex-Argyle chief Brendan Hammond to drive this change is proactive.

This initiative may be late but at least the government has reacted with what appears to be appropriate measures.

Time will only tell now if this move can ensure WA’s project pipeline is maintained. Let’s hope so, we need these developments to ensure a steady future for the economy.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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