Governments ink deal to fast track environmental approvals

The Abbott government has sealed a deal with Queensland aimed at streamlining the process of environmental approvals in a bid to cut green tape.

The two governments signed a memorandum of understanding this week, giving the state more power to conduct environmental assessments and approvals for major projects.

The deal aims to cut the duplications seen in the current system, resulting in fast tracking decisions on projects.

Cutting green tape and regulatory burdens was a key goal for the Coalition, who say the move will provide businesses with more certainty, which will in turn spur investment in Queensland.

Federal Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt, said the government was aiming for a one-stop shop for environmental approvals.

"The agreement is a significant step for the Australian Government as it puts in place measures to maintain current environmental protection while cutting the duplication and administrative burden which can unnecessarily delay major investments," Hunt said.

"By setting the environmental bar high, to an agreed standard, businesses in Queensland will not have to jump over the same hurdle multiple times.

 "What we will have is one process that gives business certainty and produces great environmental outcomes."

State Environment Minister Andrew Powell said environmental standards would not fall as a result of the changes.

"The Commonwealth will continue to work with us to ensure those high environmental standards are achieved," Powell said.

"Some of the things we'll see are Commonwealth officers embedded in my department, in the Co-ordinator General's Department.

"It's likely that we'll be audited on a regular basis."

Powell said his federal counterpart is aiming for a nine month turnaround in decisions, but that a final deadline has not yet been decided.

“Minister [Greg] Hunt mentioned that he is inspired by what is going on in New Zealand where they have achieved approvals in nine months," Powell said.

"That is not what we signed yesterday but that is our goal."

The Greens say the deal will prove to be a disaster for the environment, with projects not given the proper assessment required.

Queensland Greens Senator Larissa Waters says Premier Campbell Newman has shown he cannot be trusted to protect the environment.

"He's ripped up the wild rivers laws, he's watered down the vegetation laws, he's repealed the coastal protection laws, he's letting the loggers and the graziers go into national parks," Waters said.

"This is the last guy that you want to give more environmental responsibility to."

"The big miners will be able to go wherever they want – there'll be no limits on massive developments."

While Nick Heath from WWF says the Federal Government has historically been a last line of defence.

"Without the Federal Government there would have been a Traveston Dam," Heath said.

"Without a Federal Government there would have been large scale coastal development in pristine parts of the coastline.

"We need a strong federal approval power in Australia for what are truly national and international concerns."

The draft memorandum of understanding will now be shared with Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Premier Campbell Newman to obtain their approval.

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