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Big tick for approvals say

Stakeholders have jumped at the chance to have their say on the interim report of a review of the State’s project development approvals system.

A response period to the report, prepared by an independent review committee under the leadership of Michael Keating, closed last Thursday, with submissions exceeding the number expected and still coming in at the beginning of this week.

The responses have come from a range of community and business groups, many of which had already prepared detailed submissions from which the interim report was formed.

Rather than restrict comment to the report’s recommended processes, some responses are promoting the role of behavioural and attitudinal change in making any new system sufficient.

Born of consistent and long-term complaints about the length, complexity and uncertainty of approvals processes for projects and developments of all sizes, the review produced a mid-January interim report from the 60 original submissions, proposing 58 recommendations, two main process options and variations on these.

The first option is an integrated approval process whereby a project planning meeting would bring together the proponent and all relevant decision-making authorities to agree on performance-based conditions, and which would also accommodated public scrutiny.

This process, which would deliver greater surety that conditions would not change during the development of a project and before final licences would be granted, has been used in New South Wales.

A second option, which involves an initial government decision for major or sensitive projects to proceed to a full public inquiry overseen by an independent commission of inquiry, would be an extension of the project planning meeting approach.

The variations include an option for up-front in-principle Cabinet approval for some projects and one for fast-tracking the decision-making process, partly through reducing public comment opportunities.

The serious consideration aspect is obviously one not confined to the views of the committee’s members: Portman Mining managing director Ian Burston, Taywood Engineering representative William Grace, Conservation Council member Sue Graham-Taylor, Apache Energy deputy managing director and exploration/business development manager Eve Howell, and Goldfields Land and Sea Council director and Native Title Working Group chairman Brian Wyatt.

Responses from groups such as the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, the Environmental Alliances, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (WA), the Australian Pipeline Industry Association, the Shire of Serpentine-Jarrahdale, the Chamber of Minerals and Energy, and the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies, should give the committee a second interesting mix of views and situations for consideration.

APPEA is comfortable, in broad terms, with the interim report, WA and NT director James Pearson said. Implementing recommendations from the report would be critical, however, he stressed. It would require political will on the part of the Government to do so, as well as Government agencies behaving in whole-of-Government terms rather than protecting their individual interests.

CME director Greg Johannes said the CME was pleased with the report, which it considers makes very useful suggestions of considerable benefit to both small and major projects.

The CCI has described the interim report’s recommendations as sensible, in that they address many of the shortcomings of the current system, but also agreed with APPEA that having the right process on paper at the end of the review would not be enough.

"It needs a whole-of-Government approach and the right people committed to make the system work," CCI director, industry policy, Bill Sashegyi said.

The report’s first option was very much like that recommended by the CCI in its initial submission, while the second, more integrated process option, had some appeal.

However there was some uncertainty as to how a majority of projects might be affected, when attention was focused on achieving a smoother ride for others.

APIA executive director Allen Beasley said the interim report focused strongly on major projects but that a lot of pipeline developments in WA were smaller laterals in relatively remote areas.

Dr Beasley said APIA has urged the committee not to make smaller projects a secondary issue and has recommended the implementation of the first option in parallel with its variation, which would allow for the fast-tracking of smaller or less sensitive projects.

APIA has also recommended one approvals regime for pipelines originating offshore but with onshore delivery, with overlapping Common-wealth and State jurisdictions.

The final report of the development approvals review committee is due at the end of April.

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