New legislation will mitigate any further ‘conflict of interest’ challenges
In August 2013, the Supreme Court of Western Australia held that the environmental approval process which had been undertaken for the Browse gas project was invalid.
Following the court’s decision, the State conducted an audit of major projects in Western Australia and found that a further 25 projects could be at risk of having their environmental approvals deemed invalid. These are mainly large mining ventures which were approved between 2002-2012 by several Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) board members, who were deemed by the Court to have had a conflict of interest which was not appropriately managed at the time.
The State announced today that it will introduce legislation to parliament to validate environmental approvals of EPA decisions made between 2002-2012 (Bill). If passed, the new law will prevent any challenges against the 25 projects that are based on any questioned conflict of interest.
However, Environment Minister Albert Jacob confirmed that the legislation will not validate the Browse proposal, which is currently being reassessed by an independent panel.
Things to Consider
The specific details of the proposed legislation will be unclear until the Bill is made publicly available. Even then, the Bill will be placed under scrutiny by parliament and may never eventuate into law.
The passing of the Bill will set an interesting precedent which may reduce the accountability of government agencies to follow internal procedures such as conflict checks. As such, this space should be carefully monitored.