$318b on the line in WA as approval delays stall major projects

Delays to environmental approvals for major projects in Western Australia could jeopardise hundreds of billions of dollars in investment, according to a new report from CCIWA.

The report, Green Web: How Environmental Approvals Could Trap Australian Investment, reveals that WA has approximately $318 billion worth of known investment projects in the pipeline that have yet to receive environmental approval.

In total these projects are expected to create around 106,000 jobs in Western Australia. That equates to tens of thousands of jobs at risk.

Consultations with WA businesses that have projects currently under application for environmental approvals found that 40% were at risk of abandoning their projects as a result of the delays, while 25% indicated they were at risk of scaling down their projects.

Those that indicated they would scale down projects said they expected to downsize by 40%.

CCIWA Chief Economist, Aaron Morey, said the complex web of state and federal regulations could jeopardise jobs and economic growth in WA.

“We’ve heard from businesses that wait times have blown out by up to 18 months in the past five years in WA,” he said.

“That’s 18 months additional time for projects to languish on the shelf, and the longer a project sits on the shelf, the greater the risk that investors lose patience and look to invest elsewhere.

“There’s no doubt we need robust environmental regulation to protect our most precious assets, but when project proponents are being forced to jump through unnecessary hoops to get an approval they’re likely to look for a more predictable, less complex place to do business.”

Companies in the mining, agriculture, fisheries, construction, manufacturing, space and defence industries are among those who have expressed alarm at the increasingly complex patchwork of environmental regulation.

Delays in approvals also impact publicly funded infrastructure projects, like new railway lines and roads.

The report also highlights significant concerns with the cultural heritage approvals process, noting the considerable alarm across industry from a recent Federal Court decision about what constitutes a “relevant person” for the purposes of consultation.

Mr Morey said a major project in WA typically needs to consult with multiple State Government departments on overlapping issues.

“The State Government has attempted to make some improvements to streamline processes, including the establishment of a Green Approvals unit and investment in Environment Online,” he said.

“But our members who work within this system tell us these measures simply don’t go far enough, and it remains to be seen whether they will actually have a material impact on approval times,” he said.

The report also highlighted concerns that activists were exploiting the court system to stall projects, including groups that were not directly impacted by the proposal.

Mr Morey warned changes proposed at a federal level, including the establishment of a national Environmental Protection Agency, will make it even harder for major projects to proceed.

“The Commonwealth’s proposed Nature Positive reforms will duplicate much of what’s already happening at a state level,” he said.

“It proposes to introduce a complicated offsets regime and won’t take into account the social and economic benefits of a project when making a decision on approvals.”

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