09/07/2009 - 00:00

Business support for approvals initiative

09/07/2009 - 00:00

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WESTERN Australia's business community has given cautious approval to initiatives proposed at last week's Council of Australian Government (Coag) meeting, aimed at streamlining the approvals process for taxpayer-assisted major infrastructure developments.

Business support for approvals initiative

WESTERN Australia's business community has given cautious approval to initiatives proposed at last week's Council of Australian Government (Coag) meeting, aimed at streamlining the approvals process for taxpayer-assisted major infrastructure developments.

At the meeting in Darwin, the council recommended that the assessment and approvals process for all major infrastructure projects, which are subject to state and federal funding agreements, should be integrated in order to speed up their delivery.

The initiative will integrate and coordinate the passage of each major project through all statutory assessments and approvals required by federal, state and local governments.

Critically, the initiative will set target time periods for each stage of the approvals process, which will also be subject to regular reporting requirements to the Commonwealth coordinator general.

The process is aimed at ensuring that major projects, such as the $4 billion Oakajee port and rail project in the Mid West, do not get bogged down in the backlog of projects awaiting key approvals, including environmental assessment.

The changes should also benefit the Northbridge Link urban renewal project, given Canberra has committed $236 million to sink the railway through Northbridge. However, State Planning Minister John Day said the approvals process for the Link project was already "as streamlined as any process in Australia".

Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA chief executive James Pearson welcomed the Coag commitment to remove "unnecessary duplication of regulation and long-winded processes" provided it was more than mere rhetoric.

"CCI ... welcomes any effort by government to reduce the regulatory burden faced by business for major infrastructure projects," he said. "(But) it is critical that the political will being exhibited by state and federal governments at last week's Coag meeting in Darwin result in action to streamline the nation's cumbersome planning and approvals process.

"CCI calls on all levels of government to work closely with business and industry to develop and implement the changes needed to help future investment projects come to fruition as quickly as possible."

Proof of the inertia that continues to hamstring major projects can be seen in the Environmental Protection Authority's last annual report, which found that the agency takes an average of 140 weeks to deliver its final report on major projects from the time that it first determines the appropriate level of assessment.

Similarly, an audit by the WA Auditor General in October last year reported there had been little measurable improvement in the management of major project approvals despite numerous initiatives aimed at simplifying the process.

In particular, it found that the Office of Development Approvals Coordination and Integrated Project Approvals System, both key initiatives of the prior Labor government, had not only failed to improve things, but that in some instances, performance actually deteriorated.

Oakajee Port & Rail, which is developing the Oakajee deepwater port and associated rail network, shared the CCI's support for any moves to streamline approvals and support the timely delivery of its project.

OPR, which is jointly owned by miner Murchison Metals and Japan's Mitsubishi Corporation, expects to complete bankable feasibility studies for the port and rail project in the first quarter of 2010, ahead of first exports from the port in 2013.

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