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Client Update: 'One stop shop' environmental approvals a step closer in Queensland and NSW

19 May 2014

In brief: A 'one stop shop' for Commonwealth and state environmental approvals in Queensland and New South Wales is a step closer with the release of draft Approval Bilateral Agreements. If implemented as planned, Queensland and New South Wales will each become responsible for assessing and approving projects for the purposes of both state and Commonwealth environmental legislation. Partner Bill McCredie (view CV), Special Counsel Philip Murray (view CV) and Senior Associate Gobind Kalsi report.

What does it mean for you?

Stakeholders can comment on the draft Approval Bilateral Agreements until Friday, 13 June. It is an opportunity to work with the federal and state governments to reduce the time and cost burden for obtaining environmental approvals.

The draft Approval Bilateral Agreements identify the classes of actions and state authorisation processes that will produce both state and Commonwealth environmental approvals under the 'one stop shop' arrangements.

In Queensland:
  • The classes of action are 'coordinated projects' under the State Development and Public Works Organisation Act 1971; and 'resource activities' for which an EIS applies under the Environmental Protection Act 1994, ie mining, oil and gas, geothermal and greenhouse gas storage.
  • It is proposed the state can give Commonwealth approval for these actions for all 'matters of national environmental significance'.
  • The process is not proposed to apply to actions wholly or partly in a Commonwealth area, although actions outside of a Commonwealth area that have impacts in that area can be assessed under the new process.
In New South Wales:
  • Development that is authorised under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 in accordance with a development consent granted or modified under Part 4, a transitional Part 3A project under the continued provisions, or state significant infrastructure (including critical state significant infrastructure) in accordance with an approval given or modified under Part 5.1, are each proposed to be in the classes of actions that may be eligible for the 'one stop shop' arrangements.
  • It is proposed an action within the class identified above will not require a separate Commonwealth approval for 'matters of national environmental significance' other than the Commonwealth marine environment, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, and actions involving Commonwealth land.

As well as the draft Approval Bilateral Agreements being released in Queensland and NSW, similar draft agreements for other states are expected to be released shortly.

The 'one stop shop' process is not intended to reduce any existing Commonwealth standards.

In tandem with the release of the draft Approval Bilateral Agreements, the Commonwealth and state governments are proposing amendments to Commonwealth and state legislation to give effect to the proposed 'one stop shop' process.

If successfully implemented, the new arrangements should mean a quicker and less costly process for achieving environmental approvals. Proponents should seek advice on the new processes.

The Commonwealth aims to have the 'one stop shop' process concluded with all jurisdictions by September 2014, and December 2014 for Victoria.

Although the process to create a 'one stop shop' for environmental approvals is underway, all existing Queensland, New South Wales and Commonwealth laws continue to apply without change in the meantime.

Implementation

The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 restricts the Commonwealth Minister's ability to accredit a bilaterally accredited authorisation process for actions (or classes of actions). The new process must be laid before each House of the federal Parliament. If a House of Parliament passes a resolution opposing accreditation of the process, the Minister cannot accredit the process. Therefore, the position adopted by the respective political parties in the federal Senate may impact upon the timing of the proposed changes.

Conclusion

The purpose of the proposed 'one stop shop' regime is to reduce the time and cost burden of obtaining the environmental approvals required for projects. Environmental approvals, and legal challenges to decision-making, are increasingly forming the critical path for achieving project finance. Adoption of the reforms will contribute significantly to boosting productivity and removing delays and uncertainty in the project approval process

Stakeholders can comment on the draft Approval Bilateral Agreements until Friday, 13 June 2014.

For further information, please contact:

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