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Australia – Streamlining Of Environmental Approvals.

6 March, 2015

 

Legal News & Analysis – Asia Pacific – Australia – Environment

 

In 2013, the Australian Government committed to delivering significant reforms to the environmental approval system to lessen red tape for new projects. It proposed to accredit State processes under the national environmental law to create a single environmental assessment and approval process.

 

Each State and Territory has now signed up to a new or updated assessment bilateral agreement. These agreements allow the Commonwealth Minister for the Environment to rely on a broader range of State or Territory assessment processes for the purpose of approvals, with the stated aim of a “one project, one assessment” outcome.

 

The development of approval bilateral agreements is the final stage of the reforms. Currently all States and Territories, with the exception of Victoria and the Northern Territory, have released draft approval bilateral agreements. These agreements have a relatively broad application, although there is room in some States for additional processes beyond major environmental impact assessment approvals to be accredited.

 

Amendments to the national environmental legislation are also proposed to further facilitate streamlining. However, the Liberal Government has had difficulty securing the passage of the Bill through the Senate with resistance from minor parties including the Greens.

 

The reforms have been met with some opposition, with concerns raised as to whether it is appropriate for the States to regulate national environmental concerns and the potential for a reduction in environmental safeguards and environmental assessment standards. The Government has responded to these criticisms by reinforcing its focus on the maintenance of high environmental standards and including an assurance framework with auditing and reporting requirements.

 

However, more recently the additional obligations being placed on State assessment and approval processes have led to concerns regarding the increased complexity of these processes and associated resourcing issues and delays.

 

2015 will be an interesting year to track the first projects through the new system, and to see if the red tape reduction aim becomes a reality.

 

herbert smith Freehills


For further information, please contact:

 

Tony van Merwyk, Partner, Herbert Smith Freehills

tony.vanmerwyk@hsf.com

 

 

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