The Western Australian Government has announced that it will overhaul the state’s environmental approvals system in order to advance potentially billions of dollars of investment in job-creating projects, while still ensuring the protection of the environment. 

The announcement follows a review of environmental approvals, commissioned by the State Government in October, which found approvals processes have become overly complex, time-consuming, and costly – holding back economic development without any benefit to the environment.

The review, led by former Environmental Protection Authority Chair, Dr Paul Vogel, and planning expert David McFerran, delivered 39 recommendations to the Western Australian Government – all of which have been accepted or noted, with work already underway to deliver reform.

The State Government will progress a series of changes to the Environment Protection Act 1986, including:

  • Allowing the Environment Minister to direct the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) to assess a project of state significance within a specified timeframe
  • Allowing other government approvals processes to run in parallel with an EPA approval
  • Expanding the EPA’s board to include more skills-based members
  • Requiring the EPA to have a Statement of Intent from the Environment Minister, recognising the State Government’s priorities and policies

Allowing parallel assessments alone will significantly cut down on approvals timeframes – for example, under current laws, a mining proponent cannot begin the assessment process on a wastewater treatment plant on their mine site until the mine itself has environmental approval, delaying final approvals by months.

The State Government has said that it will further investigate options to streamline appeals processes, including statutory timeframes, parameters around consultation, and determining the number of opportunities for appeal and public comment.

Further work will be undertaken to reduce duplication in assessments by the EPA, with particular focus on assessments of emissions from projects already covered by the Federal Government’s Safeguard Mechanism, and on Aboriginal cultural heritage assessments.

In response to feedback, the State Government will also establish an EPA presence within the Perth CBD, to ensure better connectivity with proponents and stakeholders.

The Western Australian Government has also said that it will invest $18 million to reduce bottlenecks and allow for rapid deployment of additional resources for critical approvals – including using external consultants and technical experts to clear the backlog of assessments.

The funding will also support a new Coordinator General role and team within the Department of Jobs, Tourism, Science and Innovation, to better coordinate efforts and facilitate approval across government for projects of state significance. 

The Coordinator General will work to prevent and resolve delays to priority projects, and will provide regular reports to Cabinet on progress of major projects and opportunities to further regulatory reforms.  

Further consultation with industry and conservation groups will be undertaken as part of the reforms.

Western Australian Premier, Roger Cook, said that it’s important to have a strong approvals system to protect Western Australia’s unique environment, but that right now, the system isn’t working.  

“Our economy is growing, and our success in attracting major projects to Western Australia has seen a significant increase in the number of applications for assessment to the EPA – putting unprecedented strain on the system,” Mr Cook said. 

“Delays and uncertainty are putting a handbrake on investment and jobs, and slowing down our important progress to becoming a clean energy powerhouse – without delivering any benefit to the environment.

“That’s why we will overhaul approvals to slash green tape, remove duplication and reduce delays – while continuing to deliver robust protections for our environment.

“These important changes will provide certainty for major projects – including green energy projects that will drive our shift to net zero emissions – and ensure our economy remains strong for generations to come.”

Western Australian Minister for the Environment, Reece Whitby, said that the State Government has a dual responsibility to uphold the highest possible standards of environmental protection and ensure Western Australia’s economy continues to grow through investment and job creation.

“We must be conscious of delays caused by excessive approval timeframes which carry no environmental benefit,” Mr Whitby said. 

“Increasingly, the EPA’s job has become more complex as applications increase and public awareness of environmental issues rise.

“I’d like to thank Dr Paul Vogel and David McFerran for their work on this review.

“Their work will inform changes to ensure the approvals process runs smoother than before, while maintaining Western Australia’s high environmental protection standards.”

Western Australia Treasurer, Rita Saffioti, said that streamlining approvals processes is crucial to support ongoing economic growth in the state by providing greater certainty to businesses and potential investors.

“Our $18 million investment will help remove duplication between processes, and reduce delays in getting new projects off the ground,” Ms Saffioti said. 

“Ongoing investment in major projects supports the people of Western Australia, and across the rest of the country, these common sense reforms to approvals processes will make sure we continue to be the engine room of the national economy.”

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