House debates

Monday, 15 June 2020

Questions without Notice

COVID-19: Environment

2:27 pm

Photo of Rowan RamseyRowan Ramsey (Grey, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Minister for the Environment. Will the minister please outline to the House what the Morrison government is doing to make environmental assessments more efficient, and how is this helping create jobs and investment to support our economic recovery as we come out of the other side of the coronavirus pandemic?

2:28 pm

Photo of Sussan LeySussan Ley (Farrer, Liberal Party, Minister for the Environment) Share this | | Hansard source

Can I thank the member for Grey for his question. I, like him, welcome the Prime Minister's announcement today that we will be fast-tracking assessments for 15 priority infrastructure projects. This includes the Marinus Link between Tasmania and Victoria; emergency town water supplies in New South Wales; and the Olympic Dam mine extension in South Australia, a $3 billion project that will deliver 1,800 jobs to South Australia in its construction and 600 operating jobs going forward. These 15 projects are worth more than $72 billion in public and private investment and will support more than 66,000 direct and indirect jobs. Having stronger and faster environmental approvals is a key component to our economic recovery, and today's announcement builds on the good work our government has already been doing.

Since last year, we've seen assessment time frames improve from 19 per cent of key decisions made on time to 100 per cent in May this year. We've more than halved the time taken by the Commonwealth at the final stage of these assessments down from 90 days to 40 days and we're clearing the backlog of outstanding decisions, and we're going to do even better by halving our overall time frames for major projects from 3.5 years to 21 months. We've already delivered quick and robust decisions on major projects ahead of time without any relaxation of environmental safeguards. Just last week I announced approval for the Chaffy Dam pipeline with the member for New England. This important project will extend Tamworth's town water supply by six months if it doesn't rain.

As the Prime Minister announced this morning, we're on track to decide Snowy Hydro 2.0 in well under two years, unlocking over 2,000 regional jobs. But it's not just about faster approvals, it's about better approvals with strong protection for the environment. After this year's bushfires, we are taking a careful approach aimed at protecting impacted species and their habitat, taking advice from my expert scientific panel.

We are also working with the states, updating our assessment bilateral agreements. We've completed the update with New South Wales and our update to WA's agreement is well underway. There's more improvement to come with the EPBC review. We look forward to Graeme Samuel handing down his interim report at the end of this month.

As the PM said today, ultimately our objective is the streamlining of Commonwealth and state process to a point of single touch approvals. National cabinet will come back to this issue shortly and discuss further measures to streamline Commonwealth and state processes, informed by the current EPBC review. The Morrison government is protecting the environment, jobs and Australia's economic future.