Key points

  • The Industry Working Group created to review Western Australia’s development approval processes has presented its report to the Minister
  • Fifteen recommendations were made by the Working Group, three of which require legislative change
  • The most significant recommendation was that a single decision making authority for all mining and petroleum proposals be established  

In November 2008, an Industry Working Group was created by the Minister for Mines and Petroleum to review Western Australia’s development approval processes. The Working Group met over a number of months and presented its report to the Minister in April 2009. The report has recently been released to the public.

Members of the Working Group were drawn from industry and government and included the writer of this article.

The Chairman, the Hon. Peter V Jones, AM, captured the general mood of the Working Group in his letter enclosing the report to the Minister. He said:

‘We can no longer boast of our approval system being the best in Australia. It has deteriorated to where it is criticised for taking too long, being too costly, too bureaucratic, ‘process driven’ rather than being focussed on outcomes, and not always representative of the objectives of the elected government’.

The Chairman then described the development of additional legislation, departments and agencies over the past 25 years and the failure of successive governments to streamline the approvals process, despite various enquiries calling on government to do so with recommendations on how to do it.

The Working Group was mindful to ensure that the ‘proper understanding and consideration of environmental issues is in no way diminished by the report recommendations’.

Fifteen recommendations were made by the Working Group, split into two categories.

First, recommendations for reform of the system relating to policy and administrative matters that could be implemented without the need for legislative change. There were 12 recommendations including the following:

  • define Western Australian’s resource development policy
  • establish a stand alone role for the EPA
  • establish an approvals reform office
  • reform native title and Aboriginal Heritage processes, and
  • reform the environmental appeals processes.

Three recommendations require legislative change, the most significant being the recommendation to establish a single decision making authority for all mining and petroleum proposals.

Implementation of this recommendation would require a significant body of work by government over a period of 18–24 months with substantial legislative reform required. The single DMA model could also be applied to other major projects in Western Australia outside of the mining sphere.

It is the view of the writer that a single DMA can be established with robust, transparent and accountable processes to assuage the concerns of the community that environmental standards may be diminished by the creation of such a body.

It is in the interests of industry to carefully consider the recommendations and support them. The recommendations are short on detail given the amount of time that the Working Group had together. It is now up to the government to decide what recommendations to take up and implement.