Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, August 2011
Delays and uncertainty are costly to business. The Australian Government’s reform of national environment law—the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999—will reduce business costs through minimising red tape and paperwork, faster assessments, and more long–term certainty for business and the community.
Less red tape and less duplication
The Australian Government wants to take a more strategic approach to environmental regulation, including through more strategic approaches, such as regional environment plans, strategic assessments and regional recovery plans.
These strategic approaches, in partnership with states and territories, provide more certainty for business by looking at cumulative environmental impacts across whole regions before development begins, and reducing the need for individual environmental assessments. This cuts red tape and reduces duplication.
More streamlined environmental assessments
Where individual assessments are still needed, reforms will streamline and simplify these processes without compromising public transparency and consultation.
The new regional and strategic approaches will be more efficient, and reduce the regulatory burden on industry. Where projects are designed in line with a strategic approach, they will not require a full environmental impact assessment. Instead, classes of action (such as new residential developments) will be able to be approved in a much more streamlined process based on consistency with endorsed regional plans.
There will always be a need for individual assessments. So, to encourage early discussions on these projects, and ensure smarter project design, the Australian Government is introducing a new assessment method.
For lower impact projects, where a proponent provides ‘decision–ready’ documentation that meets strict criteria, they will receive a final decision in 35 business days. Importantly, public transparency will not be reduced. Guidelines on how to meet these criteria will be developed in consultation with stakeholders.
Better upfront guidance
Currently, about a third of proposals submitted under national environment law are found not to need a full environmental assessment because their impact on nationally protected matters is unlikely to be significant. This diverts resources away from the assessment of complex projects.
To reduce this burden on the assessment process, the Government will provide better upfront guidance, to give proponents a clearer understanding of expectations under national environment law. This will reduce the number of unnecessary project submissions and will help to improve the quality of submissions. Inadequate submissions can lead to delays in final decisions, because the department needs to seek further information.
Guidance material will include information for specific industries and locations, a new self–assessment tool, a guide to standard approval conditions, a clear offset policy, and referral policy guidelines.
Better national consistency
Most major projects require environmental approvals from multiple levels of government. Reducing inconsistency between state/territory and federal environmental assessment processes will reduce costs to business, communities, and governments.
Through the Council of Australian Governments, the Australian Government has begun discussions with states and territories to improve environmental processes, including through: national standards for environmental impact assessments that can be consistently applied across all jurisdictions; joint assessment panels for major projects; nationally consistent approaches to environmental offsets and biodiversity banking schemes; and a single national list for protected species and ecological communities.
The decision process will be more transparent, with more information made public, including recommendation reports for decisions, and the advice of expert councils and committees.
The wildlife trade permit assessment systems will be streamlined, with a move away from permits for individual shipments towards accrediting ongoing management arrangements.
Requirements for heritage management plans will also be simplified, so that suitable existing management arrangements can be recognised—focusing on good outcomes, rather than process.
How the reform will be achieved
These changes will result in considerable cost savings for business. To enable their full implementation, the Australian Government is proposing to introduce cost recovery mechanisms.
Cost recovery will ensure that future resources to undertake assessments are linked to demand, helping to avoid bottlenecks and helping to ensure that assessments are completed in a timely fashion.
The community, industry and other stakeholders will be given the opportunity to have a say on cost recovery options.