World-class model for major project approvals

25 November 2016

The Business Council of Australia today released a new blueprint for streamlining the planning and approvals system, saying it was unacceptable that more than $375 billion of proposed projects across Australia were potentially facing lengthy delays.

Business Council Chief Executive Jennifer Westacott said the report, Competitive Project Approvals, contained a number of recommendations to attract greater investment in Australia, make communities more liveable and fuel our next wave of economic growth.

“Australia is in a global competition for investment. We need to secure investment if we’re going to achieve a more prosperous country with better jobs, higher wages and a sustainable safety net that protects the most vulnerable,” Ms Westacott said.

“The cumulative effect of Australia’s high taxes, inflexible labour market and patchwork of federal, state and territory regulations already make this an unattractive country for many global investors. Getting our planning system in order is one way we can claw back investment that would otherwise flow to other countries.

“Federal, state and territory leaders need to ensure these recommendations are placed on their agenda when they meet for the Council of Australian Governments on December 9.”

“More than $375 billion worth of proposed projects face the prospect of lengthy delays because of cumbersome and expensive government approval processes. This includes public transport networks, resource projects, renewable energy ventures and university buildings.

“That’s unacceptable. These kinds of projects have the capacity to employ hundreds of thousands of people and change lives for the better across Australia’s cities and regional communities.

“Today’s investors can choose to invest anywhere in the world. If an investor knows that their project faces being tied up for years in bureaucratic red tape at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, it’s not hard to imagine what they’ll choose to do. The fact is that other countries have more competitive systems.

“Governments should be able to approve or reject applications for major projects within a year, but at the moment these are taking up to five years or even more.

“The Productivity Commission says the cost to society of a one-year delay in approving an average project is between $26 million and $59 million. For a large project, the cost can be between $500 million and $2 billion.

“This model would speed up approvals while boosting community consultation and maintaining Australia’s high standards of environmental protection.

The Business Council’s proposed seven-stage process for faster approvals. It includes:

  • Greater strategic planning with better community consultation to direct future land uses and conditions for approval
  • Giving primary responsibility for approvals to a single agency, eliminating the need for investors to liaise with multiple departments.
  • A single application filed after a pre-application consultation process that gives communities a voice right from the start.
  • Standardised terms of reference, Environmental Impact Statements and conditions of approval.
  • A one-year umbrella timeframe during which a decision should be made.
  • Better targeted conditions on approvals that are directly linked to environmental outcomes.
  • Streamlined administration and compliance through better coordination between agencies.
  • Published data about time taken by agencies to manage applications, their adherence to best practice and how they can improvement.

Ms Westacott said: “This model provides better consultation, giving communities a voice right from the start of the process.

“It clarifies for investors and the community that, because a minister makes the decision, only judicial review applies and only for proponents and those that are directly affected.”

“This model draws on highly regarded research from the Productivity Commission and it reflects best practice in Australia and internationally.

“This model neatly complements the Turnbull government’s response yesterday to Infrastructure Australia’s first 15-year plan as it will mean faster delivery of important infrastructure projects.”

To view the report click here.


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