A $128 million package to cut red and green tape and streamline approvals under environmental law has been unveiled ahead of the federal budget.

More than $60 million will go towards up to 10 regional plans in priority development regions to protect areas of environmental significance.

A single touch approval process – where the Commonwealth would enter into agreements with state governments to assess the environmental impacts of major projects – will be funded to the tune of $10 million.

But the Australian Conservation Foundation has slammed the reforms, saying the changes to Australia’s environment laws are about making it easier for the resource sector as opposed to protecting nature.

“While regional planning has merits, we are concerned the government’s approach appears to focus on making things easier for resource extraction industries, rather than protecting nature,” ACF’s national biodiversity policy adviser Sophie Power said.

“To tackle Australia’s extinction crisis we need strong national environment protection laws. Without robust standards to protect nature, fast tracked approvals will fast track extinction.”

But Environment Minister Sussan Ley says the reforms will strengthen environmental safeguards and enhance compliance.

“This is a package that will improve the quality and reliability of data used in assessments and decision making, ensure greater transparency and flexibility around environmental offsets and reduce duplication and delay in the assessment and approval process,” Ms Ley said.

Almost $40 million will go towards streamlining the assessment process, while $28 million will support “informed decision making”.

This includes $12 million to modernise environmental offsets policy, $9.5 million to improve compliance, $4.9 million to strengthen knowledge of protected plants and animals and $2 million to scope a new advisory committee to provide expert industry and technology advice to the government.

But Ms Power says environment offset schemes have been ineffective and even facilitated the decline of threatened species.

“We need more detail about what the government’s aim is when it says it will ‘modernise the environmental offsets policy’,” she said.

“ACF calls on the environment minister to focus a little less on boosting investor confidence and a little more on making sure our grandchildren will be able to see koalas in the wild when they grow up.”

The comment came after Resources Minister Keith Pitt said the regional plans would boost investor confidence by identifying areas where developments can be undertaken while strong environmental protections are maintained.

“The 10 new regional plans will streamline development approvals, including those for crucial resources projects, by removing the need for a project-by-project approval under national environment law,” Mr Pitt said.


Dominic Giannini
(Australian Associated Press)