The government will more than halve environmental approval times and push forward 15 infrastructure projects it says are worth more than $72 billion in its latest bid to boost a Covid-19 impaired economy.
The Melbourne to Brisbane inland rail project, the Marinus undersea electricity link between Tasmania and Victoria and the Olympic Dam extension in South Australia are among the projects set to be fast-tracked.
At an address to the Committee for the Economic Development of Australia on Monday, prime minister Scott Morrison outlined a $1.5 billion infrastructure cash boost for “shovel-ready” smaller priority projects.
The prime minister said the projects will support more than 66,000 jobs and unlock $72 billion in private and public investment.
“As part of the package, $1 billion will be allocated to priority projects which are shovel-ready, and being smaller projects they’re ready to go. And $500 million [is] reserved specifically to target road safety works,” Morrison said.
The $10 billion-odd high-speed inland rail link will be pushed forward, unlocking the long-awaited transport freight link between Melbourne and Brisbane.
The prime minister said large projects caught under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999—which take on average 90 days to work through appropriate approvals—will not only be halved but fall to 30 days by the end of the year.
“Delays associated with these approvals alone cost industry over $300 million just in 2019,” Morrison said.
“Our goal is to cut these times by a further 25 per cent by the end of this year—to 30 days for major projects.”
The fast-tracking of projects creates risks and opens up the door to unscrupulous developers, professor of Construction Management at the University of Technology Martin Loosemore warns.
“Transparency International’s recent submission to a Senate inquiry argues that powerful groups have too often prevailed over public interest.
“If fast-tracked projects are undertaken without appropriate controls purely to boost the economy rather than meet a real community need, we will be paying for this crisis for far longer than we expect.”
Ai Group chief executive Innes Willox said that the move to “single-touch approvals” will add momentum to the recovery.
“The additional allocation of $1.5 billion to bring forward and initiate small shovel-ready infrastructure projects will assist in job creation while improving amenity and road safety.
“The progress on speeding up approvals processes is commendable.”