06 Feb 2014

The streamlining of environmental assessment and approvals may be met with increased scrutiny

by Brad Wylynko, Monty Neate

As the streamlining of environmental assessment and project approval processes will reduce the opportunities to appeal a decision, there could be increased scrutiny of the assessment and approval processes.

As part of plan the Federal Government's plan to achieve its proposed "one stop shop" for environmental approvals within 12 months, the Commonwealth and Western Australian Governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in December 2013 confirming their co-operative effort to achieve a single environmental approval process.

Under the MoU,:

  • Accrediting assessments: the parties agreed to conclude, as soon as practicable in 2014, a comprehensive assessment bilateral agreement to accredit WA to undertake a single assessment process for both Commonwealth (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) (EPBC Act)) and WA purposes (Environmental Protection Act 1986 (WA));
  • Accrediting approvals: the parties will pursue a comprehensive approvals bilateral agreement to accredit WA to undertake approvals under the EPBC Act - to be "agreed in principle" by the end of April 2014, and concluded by 18 September 2014;
  • Administrative streamlining: WA will continue its efforts to streamline its assessment and approval processes while maintaining environmental standards and outcomes;
  • Use of strategic assessments: the parties agreed to finalise the strategic assessment of the plan for the protection of matters of national environmental significance in the Perth and Peel regions under the EPBC Act.

Unique to the Commonwealth-WA MoU, the parties also agreed to explore avenues that would allow WA to be accredited to undertake strategic assessments, subsequently endorse policies, plans or programs and approve the taking of an action or class of actions as provided for under Part 10 of the EPBC Act.

While it is clear the measures outlined in the MoU aim to reduce duplication in the environmental assessment and approval process, they may have broader implications. Among other things, the streamlining of environmental assessment and project approval processes will reduce the opportunities to appeal a decision in connection with a proposed project. This may, in turn, lead to increased scrutiny of the assessment and approval processes undertaken by the State.

 

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Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this communication. Persons listed may not be admitted in all States and Territories.