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Green tape deal fails

PREMIER Colin Barnett and the Chamber of Mnerals and Energy of Western Australia have both criticised the federal government’s failure to follow through on a deal with the states to cut ‘green tape’.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard defended the outcome last week, saying she was not willing to hand environmental approval powers to the states for fear it would create a “dalmatian dog” of legal risk and uncertainty for business.

Mr Barnett branded it a step backwards.

“I would hope that the Commonwealth would be more trusting of the states to deal with environmental assessments,” he said.

Mr Barnett said the Commonwealth would always have retained the power to intervene if it thought a project was not being properly handled.

Chamber of Minerals and Energy chief executive Reg Howard-Smith said WA’s resources sector had expected the full implementation of bilateral agreements between the Commonwealth and the states.

“Bilateral agreements would have avoided unnecessary duplication in environmental assessments and delivered much-needed certainty, efficiency and transparency of decision making for resource projects,” Mr Howard-Smith said.

The Council of Australian Governments agreed in April to shift some federal powers to the state and territory governments in a bid to streamline environmental regulation and slash duplication for business.

It would have given states responsibility over their own environmental approval and assessment processes, a scenario conservation groups and the Greens campaigned heavily against.

Ms Gillard said it became clear the states had conflicting views on the issue and there was a real risk of creating more legal uncertainty and litigation for businesses.

“I became increasingly concerned that we were on our way to creating the regulatory equivalent of a dalmatian dog,” she told reporters after the COAG meeting on Friday.

“That for businesses would be the worst of all possible worlds.”

COAG did commit to working towards achieving the “twin goals” of high environmental standards and streamlining for businesses. It will report back on progress at the next joint meeting.

Ms Gillard also indicated the government would legislate some measures in response to the Hawke review aimed at streamlining and bolstering environmental regulation.

The Australian Conservation Foundation’s Charles Berger welcomed the “reprieve” but urged more be done to make sure they were not revived later on.

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