An undated company photograph shows Macmahon Holdings Ltd. machinery operating in the Saraji open pit coal mine in Queensland, Australia, provided to the media on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2008. Macmahon Holdings Ltd., an Australian contract miner and construction company, said full-year profit will rise 30 percent on sustained investment in mines and roads to service them. The shares climbed the most in two months. Source: Macmahon Holdings Ltd. via Bloomberg News
An undated company photograph shows Macmahon Holdings Ltd. machinery operating in the Saraji open pit coal mine in Queensland, Australia, provided to the media on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2008. Macmahon Holdings Ltd., an Australian contract miner and construction company, said full-year profit will rise 30 percent on sustained investment in mines and roads to service them. The shares climbed the most in two months. Source: Macmahon Holdings Ltd. via Bloomberg News

Four big projects in collective limbo for almost 20 years

FOUR job-spinning projects in Queensland and NSW have been waiting for Commonwealth approval for a combined 19 years, sparking calls within the Morrison Government for an environmental "regulatory holiday" for major proposals.

The delays under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act have kept 3000 jobs on hold and sparked condemnation by Senator Matt Canavan, who has lambasted Canberra bureaucrats and the environmental laws.

It comes as it can be revealed the percentage of decisions made on time under the Act plummeted to 60 per cent in 2018-19, the lowest in 10 years, when it was 94 per cent in 2009/10.

The projects waiting approval include agricultural development Kingvale, North Queensland, which has been waiting approval for 1380 days, coking coal mine Saraji East in Central Queensland - waiting approval for 1310 days - and two NSW thermal coal mines, Vickery Coal Mine - waiting 1558 days - and Angus Place - waiting 2541 days.

 

Nationals Senator Matt Canavan. Picture: AAP/Lukas Coch
Nationals Senator Matt Canavan. Picture: AAP/Lukas Coch

While some of those projects have recently been referred back to state governments for more work to be done, they will still have to receive tick-off under the EPBC, highlighting a cumbersome process.

Senator Canavan, a former Resources Minister in Scott Morrison's Cabinet, today controversially tells The Courier-Mail, "We should consider a plan to hibernate the regulators, perhaps for a longer period than our business hibernation, so post this crisis, investment can be unleashed and jobs can be created immediately".

 

"(The) EPBC Act has a higher linguistic complexity than many of Shakespeare's plays. For many businesses the question is to invest or not to invest, and too many are choosing, or being forced into, the latter.

"Now is the time to get these projects approved and we have the power to do it. Under section 158 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, the Minister for the Environment (Sussan Ley) has the power to exempt projects from its arcane provisions.

"It is clearly in the national interest for projects to get going as soon as possible. So we should look at using this provision in these unprecedented times.

"We could then extend this process to invite major projects to apply through a facilitated "national interest window".

 

 

Environment Minister Sussan Ley. Picture: AAP/Mick Tsikas
Environment Minister Sussan Ley. Picture: AAP/Mick Tsikas

A special investigation by The Courier-Mail puts a blowtorch on the EPBC Act, which is under review by the Morrison Government. The statutory review, which started in October last year, is being done by former Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Graeme Samuel. It is understood if Professor Samuel's draft report in June provides some sensible proposals the Government may adopt them before the final assessment in October.

There a strong signals within the Government that the complex Act needs to be rewritten, especially in the wake of COVID-19.

 

A spokesman for Ms Ley said the Government wanted strong environmental safeguards and clear determinations within reasonable time frames.

"Since coming to office the Minister has made the removal of unnecessary blockages a clear priority, and is satisfied the Department is making significant headway in resolving assessment delays,'' he said.

"The Morrison Government has invested $25 million to increase the number of specialist environmental assessment staff and to develop digital technology improvements that will assist going forward.

"We are working with state governments through bilateral agreements to reduce duplication and remain committed to cutting unnecessary delay.

"Those delays are not all one sided, procedural challenges, increased fears of litigation, state assessment processes and the time some companies may take in supplying required information, or in accepting conditions, can all have an impact.

 

 

Graeme Samuel. Picture: David Geraghty
Graeme Samuel. Picture: David Geraghty

"The EPBC Review allows all parties to make their submissions on the best ways forward."

Senator Canavan said too many job-projects were left in limbo because of the complexity of the Act, "while regulators count the number of bare-rumped, sheath-tailed bats that live in remote parts of our nation.

"Make no mistake, my view is that bats and other animals should be protected. I just don't think that bureaucrats sitting in Canberra are the best placed to offer that protection."

He said under the plan he has put forward, a project must be significant and ready to go.

The Minister and the Department would still then investigate their environmental impact but could do so in a concentrated and expedited fashion, guaranteeing a quick turnaround, Senator Canavan said.

"That could change the culture of government approval processes that so often focus on why a project should not happen, to one of how can we make this work."

 

 

 

FOUR BIG PROJECTS WAITING FOR APPROVAL

 

 

 

KINGVALE STATION, CAPE YORK

● Waiting for approval under the Act for 1380 days

● Proponents want to clear 2100ha. Approved in 2014 by Newman Government but the Commonwealth Environment Department initiated a rare intervention to freeze the clearing permit. It has been waiting for approval under the EPBC Act since 2016. Opponents have registered concerns about wildlife and runoff.

SARAJI EAST COAL MINE, CENTRAL QUEENSLAND

● Waiting for approval under the Act for 1310 days

● BHP Coal, Mitsubishi Development want to develop an underground coal mine to extract up to seven million tonnes of metallurgical coal a year for 25-30 years. First sought approval from State Government in 2013, then referred under the EPBC Act in 2016.

ANGUS PLACE MINE EXTENSION, NSW WESTERN COALFIELDS

● Waiting for approval under the Act for 2541 days

● Centennial has proposed the extraction of 4 million tonnes of coal a year through new underground longwall mining under the Newnes State Forest and Temperate Highland Peat Swamps on Sandstone ecological communities, listed as endangered under the EPBC Act.

VICKERY EXTENSION PROJECT (THERMAL COAL), NSW

● Waiting for approval under the Act for 1558 days

● Whitehaven's Vickery Coal Project is an approved but yet to be developed open-cut coal mine 25km north of Gunnedah. It will produce up to 4.5 million tonnes a year. Whitehaven has applied for extension of opencut mining operations.

 

 

 

YEAR PERCENTAGE OF STATUTORY DECISIONS MADE ON TIME:

 

2009-10 94%

2010-11 90%

2011-12 86%

2012-13 86%

2013-14 76%

2014-15 75%

2015-16 74%

2016-17 70%

2017-18 62%

2018-19 60%

 

Source: Commonwealth Environment Department

 

 

 

 

 

Originally published as Four big projects in collective limbo for almost 20 years



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