Statement on the COAG Business Advisory Forum

Statement from BCA President Tony Shepherd on the COAG Business Advisory Forum

The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Business Advisory Forum (BAF) has today heard a frustrating reversal by the Commonwealth on its commitment to deal with the growing costs of major investments which are vital to underpinning the strength and resilience of our economy.

Despite significant efforts between the Commonwealth and the states since the last meeting in April, there has been failure to make meaningful progress on the critical reform of eliminating costly double handling of environmental assessments and approvals under the national Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

This was the emblematic issue on which the forum could have achieved real results that would have reduced the risk of huge investments which support jobs, communities and businesses throughout the economy from going to other, more competitive countries.

The forum participants from business and government alike reinforced the non-negotiable need to protect all environmental standards that will preserve our rich natural heritage.

What was made absolutely clear, however, was that maintaining Australia’s current system of environmental assessments and approvals, where duplicated process and multiple agencies exist, will risk the investments that are critical to the strength and resilience of the economy.

A one-stop shop for environmental assessments and approvals to the existing environmental standards is critical to Australia remaining competitive and keeping investment and jobs growth in the years ahead.

The Business Council of Australia has always advocated the Commonwealth should seek to achieve the elimination of costly double handling from environmental assessments and approvals through bilateral arrangements with the states, and this was agreed at the last forum meeting.

The Business Council has never sought a consistent, uniform national approach. We were seeking immediate progress on removing double handling while at the same time preserving the highest environmental standards.

The current system of environmental assessments and approvals is already highly complex, so there can only be a gain from bilateral agreements which ensure that while maintaining all environmental standards, the time and cost of approvals for these major projects must be reduced.

The Business Council therefore calls on the Commonwealth to commit clearly to accrediting the states through bilateral agreements and the use of standards, which we believe provide a robust approach.

The Commonwealth should take up the offer of the Premiers of New South Wales and Victoria in the forum meeting today to sign agreements that we understand are ready now on more efficient environmental assessment and approval processes by the original March 2013 deadline.

These agreements can be a model for bilateral negotiations with other states in coming months so that momentum can be maintained in this critical national reform.

The Business Council welcomes today’s Business Advisory Forum asking COAG to commission the Productivity Commission to benchmark major project approvals processes against international best practice.

Such a review will be important for guiding reforms to lift the quality of approvals processes and improving Australia’s competitiveness.
We encourage states to take steps to streamline the approvals process for major projects and development assessments and commit to a timeline for implementing reforms. The Productivity Commission report will provide an opportunity to drive these reforms further.

The Business Council welcomes COAG’s renewed attention on the need to reform the energy market and notes the discussion at today’s Business Advisory Forum about the concerns related to reliability and rising electricity costs.

What is important is that reforms in this sector deliver efficient and competitive outcomes, such as through privatising remaining assets and regulation which creates a level playing field, removal of price regulation, and removal of carbon reduction policies that aren’t complimentary to a carbon price.