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Labor prepared to streamline environmental approvals for major projects

“They’ve been in government for seven years. Every delayed decision is a delayed job, a delay in getting a project kicked off and in getting jobs created,” she said.

“Where an approval can be given to a project, where the project meets the environmental tests, where the environment can be protected, then that’s not something that should be delayed.”

Mr Morrison has opened negotiations with state and territory leaders to reach bilateral agreements that cut some of the duplication between the levels of government, potentially leaving more power with the states.

Labor MP Terri Butler has flagged the party could support faster environmental approvals for major projects.

Labor MP Terri Butler has flagged the party could support faster environmental approvals for major projects.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

The idea has triggered warnings from environmental groups but the government is promising not to weaken safeguards and is not proposing detailed changes until it receives a review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act next month.

Ms Butler said Labor wanted faster decisions where it was safe to do so, where environmental protections were upheld and where decisions were made well.


“What we don’t want is reducing decision-making times through having shoddier, under-resourced decisions,” she said.

“If you rush a decision and you stuff it up, then that exposes you to litigation.”

Ms Butler said Labor would support bilateral agreements between federal and state governments to reach the Prime Minister’s ambition of “single-touch” approvals but said this could not sacrifice federal responsibility.

“The starting point has got to be that for matters of national environmental significance there always has to be a role for the commonwealth,” she said.

Labor calculates that 86 per cent of project decisions were made on time under the EPBC Act in 2012 but this fell to 60 per cent in 2019.

The Gillard government attempted a single regime but dropped the idea after intense criticism from environmental groups and concerns that it could not achieve uniform rules for all states and territories. The Abbott government also sought to create a “one stop shop” for decisions.

Mr Morrison has revived those ambitions in national cabinet in the name of creating jobs during the recovery from the coronavirus crisis, but he is yet to receive the EPBC review by former competition regulator Graeme Samuel.

Labor is open to the idea of bilateral agreements on approvals to achieve faster decisions but Ms Butler said this would depend on the details, which would have to be made public.


Ms Butler also said Labor was open to the idea of amending the EPBC Act itself but only if it improved environmental protections when the country faced an “extinction crisis”.

“Some wags, who don’t like any form of regulation, will try to oppose this as a contest between jobs and the environment but of course that’s ridiculous, because so many of our jobs depend on the environment,” she said.

“Yes, I will be very interested to see what Graeme Samuel says about improving the EPBC Act, but it’s got to have the twin focus of jobs and protecting the environment.”

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