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Green light for cutting red tape

Feb 12, 2015 Energy

With the oil and gas industry looking at all avenues for cutting costs, one of the biggest savings for local companies could actually be brought the table by the Federal Government.

After decades of debate, dispute and downright frustration, it appears that Australia might finally be on the right track to untie much of the environmental red tape that has been holding back the development of the country’s oil and gas assets.

When the Northern Territory Government put its signature on a draft bilateral agreement with the Federal Government in late December 2014, it made it a clean sweep of eight out of eight Australian States and Territories that have agreed to become part of the new One-Stop Shop reform for environmental assessment.

The centre piece of the eight draft agreements is the accreditation of State and Territory Government environmental assessment legislation, allowing for the creation of a streamlined assessment process that satisfies the various State and Territory Governments and the Federal Governments’ requirements.

It is a move that has been welcomed by the oil and gas industry, with many analysts suggesting the signing of the agreements showed that there is considerable progress being made towards cutting red tape.

Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt says the new One Stop Shop process could save industry hundreds of millions of dollars and that the Australian Government was committed to reducing the regulatory burden on business by streamlining the environmental approvals process.

“Duplication of Federal, State and local approvals processes adds complexity and cost to environmental approvals across the country – with no added environmental benefit,” he said.

“The One-Stop Shop policy will accredit state and territory regulatory processes under national environmental law, to create a single approval process that satisfies both approval requirements while maintaining high environmental standards.

“This will save Australian businesses around $420 million nationally every year”.

Local magazine editor Denice Rice of PESA News says the cutting back of red tape will benefit everyone in the oil and gas sector.

“Anyone that has bid for or undertaken a project in this country knows the frustration, and cost, of having to deal with multiple jurisdictions and legislations. If the governments can finally pull this off it will really make a difference to Australia’s competitiveness and productivity – and that is never more important than at times like this when everyone is looking to cut costs,” Ms Rice said.

Below is a State-by-State round-up of One Stop Shop developments.

South Australia

The Federal and South Australian Governments have released a draft bilateral agreement for approvals under national environment law for public comment.

The draft agreement provides the broadest scope for accreditation of processes under the Mining Act 1971 and the Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Act 2000 possible under national environmental law.

Northern Territory

Northern Territory Minister for the Environment Gary Higgins said the NT’s new agreement with the replaces the previous bilateral assessment and will boost business, create jobs and lead to growth in the Territory’s economy while ensuring that the highest environmental standards are kept in place.

He said the Minerals Council of Australia has stated that reducing approval timelines by one year has the potential to lift Australia’s national output by $160 billion and create an extra 69,000 jobs by 2025.

ACT

A draft bilateral agreement that provides a single process for environmental approvals in the Australian Capital Territory has been released for public comment by the Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt and the ACT Minister for Planning, Mick Gentleman.

The draft agreement proposes to cover certain approval processes under the Australian Capital Territory Planning and Development Act (2007).

NSW

The Federal Government and NSW have signed a new enhanced agreement will replace the assessment bilateral agreement currently in place.

“Under this agreement, NSW will be accredited to conduct a project assessment under national laws and provide the Australian Government with a recommendation on whether to approve a project and what conditions should be attached to that decision under federal environment law,” said Federal Minister Hunt.

Queensland

The biggest hold-up in the system at the moment appears to be Queensland, where both the Palmer United Party (PUP) and the Greens have moved to block progress towards a final agreement.

Nothing formal on a final bilateral agreement on environmental approvals has been made by the Federal or Queensland Governments produced a draft release for public comment back in May 2014.

An approved bilateral agreement would cover approvals on major projects under the State Development and Public Works Organisation Act 1971 (Qld) and resource projects under the Environment Protection Act 1994 (Qld).

Tasmania

Tasmania’s Environment Minister, Matthew Groom, said the agreement to create a single assessment process was an outstanding example of what two governments can achieve when they work cooperatively on a common goal.

He said that modelling for the Minerals Council Australia undertaken by BAEconomics shows that reducing the timeframe for environmental approvals by one year would deliver the Tasmanian economy 1242 additional jobs by 2025 and provide cumulative real gains to the value of GSP of $2.88 billion.

Victoria

A new assessment bilateral agreement that removes duplication and provides a single process for environmental assessments in Victoria has been signed by the Commonwealth and Victorian governments.

According to the Federal Environment Minister, in Victoria alone, a saving in approval timelines of one year can boost the State’s economy by more than $35 billion and create more than 15,000 extra jobs by 2025.

Western Australia

The Federal Government and the Western Australian Government released a draft bilateral agreement on environmental approvals for public comment in December 2014.

“We are in no way lowering the bar for environmental assessments. We are simply removing pointless duplication to reduce the complexity of the existing system, which unnecessarily adds costs and delays to environmental approvals in Western Australia,” Western Australian Environmental Minister Albert Jacob said.

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