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Major project development assessment processes

Research report

Released 10 / 12 / 2013

Appendices B to F are only available online in the downloadable files below.

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  • Key points
  • Media release
  • Contents
  • While Australia already has in place the building blocks of a sound development assessment and approval (DAA) regulatory system, there is substantial scope to comprehensively overhaul the framework in Australia for major projects.
  • The DAA processes of Australian jurisdictions and select countries were benchmarked for this study. A number of leading practices were identified which should be implemented by all Australian jurisdictions.
  • DAA areas that require attention include:
    • unnecessary complexity and duplicative processes
    • lengthy approval timeframes
    • lack of regulatory certainty and transparency in decision making
    • conflicting policy objectives
    • inadequate consultation and enforcement
    • regulatory outcomes falling short of their objectives.
  • Specific reforms proposed include:
    • a five-point plan to move towards a 'one project, one assessment, one decision' framework for environmental approvals, that includes strengthening bilateral assessment and approval agreements between the Commonwealth and the States and Territories
    • limiting the use of 'stop-the-clock' provisions
    • States and Territories improving coordination between their regulatory agencies
    • institutional separation of environmental policy development from regulatory and enforcement functions
    • enshrining the principle that Ministerial approval - unless a deemed approval - should not be reviewable by review bodies other than on judicial review grounds
    • establishing statutory timelines, together with appropriate safeguards, for key decision points in the DAA process
    • expanding the use of Strategic Assessments and Plans where practical to do so
    • requiring that approval authorities publish reasons for their approval decisions and conditions
    • improving third party opportunity for compliance actions.
  • Any regulatory system is only as good as its weakest link. Partial reform efforts are unlikely to achieve meaningful improvements.

Scope to fix regulatory framework for major projects

There is substantial scope to improve Australia's development assessment and approval regulatory framework for major projects, according to a report by the Productivity Commission.

The report - Major Project Development Assessment Processes - identifies long approval timeframes, conflicting policy objectives, duplicative processes, regulatory uncertainty, inadequate consultation and enforcement and regulatory outcomes falling short of their objectives as areas requiring attention.

The Commission proposes limits on the use of 'stop-the-clock' provisions; separation of regulators from policy institutions; limits on merit review of non-Ministerial decisions; and better access for third parties to enforce conditions on approvals. It also argues for re-launching accreditation by the Commonwealth of State and Territory environment assessment and approval procedures.

The Commission outlines how jurisdictions can establish a 'one project, one assessment, one decision' framework for environmental approvals, through bilateral assessment and approval agreements. This would reduce costly duplication between Australian and State and Territory Government processes.

The report also proposes statutory timelines for assessment and approval decisions, the wider use of Strategic Assessments, and the establishment of Major Project Coordination Offices.

Presiding Commissioner Jonathan Coppel said 'Implementation of a comprehensive package of regulatory reforms is essential if Australia is to secure the full benefits of major projects and remain an attractive destination for investment, while maintaining high standards of community protection'.

  • Preliminaries
    • Cover, Copyright and publication detail, Foreword, Terms of reference, Contents and Abbreviations
  • Overview
  • Recommendations and findings
  • Chapter 1 About the study
    • 1.1 Why look at major project DAA regulations and processes?
    • 1.2 Scope of the study
    • 1.3 The Commission's approach to benchmarking
    • 1.4 Conduct of the study
    • 1.5 Structure of the report
  • Chapter 2 Major project development in Australia
    • 2.1 What is a major project?
    • 2.2 The economic importance of major projects
    • 2.3 The landscape of major projects in Australia
  • Chapter 3 Major project assessment and approval processes
    • 3.1 Major projects and the regulatory framework
    • 3.2 How are major projects assessed and approved?
  • Chapter 4 Regulatory objectives
    • 4.1 Overview of jurisdictions' DAA objectives
    • 4.2 Evaluating objectives
    • 4.3 Moving towards leading practice
  • Chapter 5 The application stage
    • 5.1 Overview of the application stage
    • 5.2 Guidance on regulatory processes and requirements
    • 5.3 Ministerial discretion to declare major projects
    • 5.4 Stakeholder participation in setting the scope of assessments
  • Chapter 6 The assessment stage
    • 6.1 Overview of major project assessment processes
    • 6.2 Duplication between assessment processes
    • 6.3 Coordination of major project DAA processes
    • 6.4 Independent assessment agencies
    • 6.5 'Scaling' assessment requirements
  • Chapter 7 The approval stage
    • 7.1 Overview of major project approval processes
    • 7.2 Duplication of approval processes between levels of government
    • 7.3 Unnecessary delay in approval decisions
    • 7.4 Responsibility for making approval decisions
    • 7.5 Improving the process that decision makers are required to follow
  • Chapter 8 Conditions and offsets
    • 8.1 Approval conditions
    • 8.2 Environmental offsets
  • Chapter 9 Regulatory decisions: review and appeal rights
    • 9.1 Overview of review processes
    • 9.2 What review rights should proponents and third parties have?
    • 9.3 Standing: who should be able to bring a review application?
    • 9.4 Costs and time of review processes
    • 9.5 Implications of the proposed reforms
  • Chapter 10 Monitoring of compliance and enforcement
    • 10.1 Approaches to monitoring of compliance and enforcement
    • 10.2 Monitoring of compliance and enforcement activities in practice
    • 10.3 Clarity of regulators' responsibilities
    • 10.4 Resource allocation for compliance and enforcement activities
    • 10.5 Risk-based approaches to enforcement
    • 10.6 Practicality and enforceability of approval conditions
    • 10.7 Improving agency performance on compliance
    • 10.8 Third party enforcement
  • Chapter 11 Strategic approaches
    • 11.1 What is strategic assessment and how can it help?
    • 11.2 Strategic assessments in practice
    • 11.3 Strategic planning
  • Chapter 12 Implementation of reform
    • 12.1 The importance of 'making it happen'
    • 12.2 A roadmap for implementation
    • 12.3 Ensuring long term reform success
  • Appendix A Public consultation
  • References

Please note: Appendices B to F are only available online and are not in the printed copy.

  • Appendix B Benchmarking and good regulatory practice
  • Appendix C Australian DAA arrangements
  • Appendix D International DAA processes
  • Appendix E Overview of international rankings reports
  • Appendix F National and international use of strategic assessment

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