$72 billion worth of infrastructure projects to be fast-tracked by federal government

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Approvals for mining projects in Western Australia are set to be fast-tracked as part of a push to accelerate billions of dollars worth of infrastructure projects across the country, despite controversy over the destruction of Indigenous heritage sites.

Fifteen projects worth a collective $72 billion in public and private investment will be accelerated, Prime Minister Scott Morrison is set to reveal on Monday in an address to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia's State of the Nation forum.

The Brisbane to Melbourne Inland Rail project, and road, rail and iron ore projects in Western Australia are among those listed.

Other projects include the Marinus Link between Tasmania and Victoria, the Olympic Dam extension in South Australia as well as emergency town water projects in NSW.

Under a "bilateral" model between the Commonwealth and state and territory government, joint assessment teams will work to slash approval times for the projects, worth a collective $72 billion in public and private investment.

The projects are expected to support more than 66,000 direct and indirect jobs.

"Under our new approach this investment, and most importantly, these jobs will be brought to market earlier by targeting a 50 per cent reduction in Commonwealth assessment and approval times for major projects, from an average of 3.5 years to 21 months," Mr Morrison is expected to say.

These jobs will be brought to market earlier by targeting a 50 per cent reduction in Commonwealth assessment and approval times.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison

"Early examples of this approach are already paying dividends. Working with the NSW Government, we are on track to complete Commonwealth assessment and approval for Snowy 2.0 in under two years - unlocking over 2000 regional jobs."

Mr Morrison will call on all levels of government, business and the community to bring "bring the same common sense and cooperation we showed fighting COVID-19 to unlocking infrastructure investment in the recovery".

"Many states have already cut approval times ... and I've asked them all to lift their ambition further, and work with us through the National Cabinet to make deregulation a focus of Australia's economic recovery," Mr Morrison will say.

However moves to cut red tape could be controversial in light of Rio Tinto's destruction of a sacred Aboriginal heritage site in Western Australia.

The mining giant has faced a growing international backlash, after it blew up the 46,000 Juukan Gorge cave in the Hammersley Ranges.

The cave was the only inland site in Australia to show signs of continual human occupation through the last Ice Age, the Guardian reported.

Its destruction was approved under Western Australia's decades-old Aboriginal heritage laws, which heavily favoured mining companies.

Federal Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt told the ABC's 7.30 program he would work with the Western Australian government "to ensure that we do not have a repeat of the destruction of any Aboriginal site in this country".

Mr Morrison's pledge to slash approval times also comes amid a once-in a decade review of Australia's Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

"It's clear that in Australia that's not what we need to be doing. Scientists have recently warned that Australia is facing an extinction crisis," Conservation Council ACT executive director Helen Oakey said last November.

Since then, hundreds of previously safe species have been identified as threatened due to the devastating Black Summer bushfires.

About 300 of the 1800 species listed already threatened under the EPBC Act had more than 10 per cent of their known or likely range affected, Australia's Threatened Species Commissioner Dr Sally Box told the bushfire royal commission.

This story $72b worth of infrastructure projects to be fast-tracked first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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