20/08/2009 - 00:00

Quick action sought on approvals overhaul

20/08/2009 - 00:00


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WESTERN Australia's resources industry is demanding urgent implementation of measures to overhaul the state's failing approvals processes following a damning review commissioned by the state government.

Quick action sought on approvals overhaul

WESTERN Australia's resources industry is demanding urgent implementation of measures to overhaul the state's failing approvals processes following a damning review commissioned by the state government.

The review, by a panel of senior industry representatives and chaired by former state development minister Peter Jones, was ordered in November by Mines and Petroleum Minister Norman Moore, who tabled the findings in parliament last week.

The Jones report recommended sweeping changes to the approvals regime, starting with the need to formally declare the government's policy on economic and social development, and the creation of a dedicated department of natural resources to oversee the sector.

Other recommendations included: giving the Environmental Protection Authority a stand-alone role independent of the Department of Environment and Conservation; transferring responsibility for all environmental appeals to the State Administrative Tribunal; appointing a full-time mining warden to settle lease disputes; and implementing target timelines for each key stage in the approvals process.

But the key change, to be implemented in a second phase of reform, would be the establishment of a single authority responsible for making all decisions affecting mining and petroleum development proposals.

Resources industry groups welcomed the recommendations, but said they were worthless without urgent implementation.

"The Jones report is the latest in a long line of reports and surveys that have found our approvals system wanting, and now is the time for action," said Tom Baddeley, WA director of the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association.

"If we are still discussing this in the New Year, we'd be a little disappointed."

Mr Baddeley said APPEA believed establishing a single authority responsible for all resources development proposals should be the top priority.

"Having only one decision making authority ... would be a big step forward that would speed up the process, especially if accompanied by firm timelines," he said.

Association of Mining and Exploration Companies chief executive Simon Bennison blasted the absence of any clear implementation commitment from government.

"It is very disappointing that the WA government would table a document that details so many examples of expensive red tape without a comprehensive plan to implement the required changes," he said.

Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA chief executive James Pearson said rapid action was paramount for WA to "regain its status as an internationally competitive destination for investment".

Chamber of Minerals and Energy chief executive Reg Howard-Smith said he looked forward to working with the government to implement reform. In particular, several simple initiatives could be implemented to great effect almost immediately, such as granting the Department of Minerals and Petroleum authority over low-level approvals including works permits for drilling programs.

Mr Moore said he was determined to overhaul what he described as an unwieldy, undisciplined and opaque approvals system.

"It is unacceptable that companies proposing to drive the economy forward with new developments, create jobs and boost our trade relationships can by stymied for months or years longer than necessary," Mr Moore told WA Business News.

He blamed a lack of political will by the past Labor government for failing to act on previous recommendations, and said the Jones report was already being considered by the government's ministerial taskforce on approvals, development and sustainability.

"This taskforce is currently overseeing the task of streamlining the approvals processes across all government agencies and has already given some preliminary consideration to the recommendations," Mr Moore said. "We will soon see further action on this front."

The Jones report was scathing of the duplication, obfuscation and delay, which it said had been steadily increasing since the state's current environmental protection regime took effect in the mid 1980s.

Most damning was the report's finding that some key agencies, notably the EPA and DEC, appeared to be pursuing their own objectives without the approval or endorsement of government.

"It is considered that, currently, government is not fully aware of, or has not approved, all of what some of its agencies are requiring of proponents, and the policies that are being pursued," the report states.

Instead, key agencies such as the EPA appeared to have developed "policies, processes and requirements which they have pursued and enforced without the current government's endorsement".

The report blamed much of this rogue behaviour on a lack of initiative by past ministers and senior bureaucrats in ensuring that all relevant agencies and departments acted according to government policy.

The report also noted industry concerns about the appointment of former EPA and DEC staff as appeals conveners under the current open-ended appeals process, and recommended that only suitably qualified individuals, trained in administrative law, should be appointed to the role.

Additionally, the report attacked the lengthy delays associated with gaining native title and Aboriginal heritage clearances, and said the Federal Court should be used more often and sooner to resolve such issues where negotiation was unable to achieve a timely outcome.


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