|Environmental assets: supporting the paper industry?|
BY BRIAN WAWN, PROJECT MONITOR
In a report of June 2012 ('Pipeline or Pipedream?'), the Business Council of Australia discusses the case of an environmental assessment for a major resources project that cost “more than $25 million”, “took more than two years, involved more than 4,000 meetings, briefings and presentations … and resulted in a 12,000-page report”.
Approval was finally granted, but “with 1,500 conditions … and a further 8,000 sub-conditions”.
In November 2012, mining company Rio Tinto pointed out despairingly in a company newsletter that, at the direction of the Federal environment minister (Tony Burke), it had to prepare a supplementary environmental assessment for its South of Embley bauxite project in far north Queensland, covering shipping through the Great Barrier Reef.
This was despite the fact (in the company’s words) that the project would result in “no substantial change in the number of ships traversing the Great Barrier Reef”. It added that “the project has been significantly delayed as a consequence”.
In December 2012, Mr Burke extended for the second time the deadline for approving a uranium project in Western Australia that was already approved by the Western Australian government.
The Australian Uranium Association commented that “Minister Burke’s decision demonstrates the inconsistency between a national policy seeking … to open a new uranium market for Australian uranium miners in India and the practice of a national approvals system that makes it difficult for Australia to compete with other nations in building the production capacity required to supply new customers”.
Many in the business sector see the Federal government as too ready to capitulate to the demands of the Greens, whose support it requires in parliament.
At the same time, the government is aware of the desirability of streamlining the environmental-approvals process for major projects. In 2012, it released a draft Framework of Standards that (in the words of law firm, Corrs) “contemplates shifting to a position where the Commonwealth will negotiate agreements (with the states) relating to both assessment and approval of projects”.
The Federal opposition has stated that the issue of government regulation will be an important component of the policies it is preparing for the Federal election, to be held in the second half of 2013. It released in November 2012 a discussion paper on the issue.
The month before, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry released its National Red Tape Survey, which was critical of the regulatory requirements of business.
The issue of government regulation, including environmental assessments, looks like assuming increasing political importance in 2013.
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