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#################### Geoff Seidner
MASTER plans for future development of the Great Barrier Reef and the nation's major coal, iron ore and gas regions have been fast-tracked to help deliver a Coalition promise to cut green tape and break the decision-making "paralysis" of the Rudd and Gillard governments.
Environment Minister Greg Hunt said 50 projects had been left stranded by the former government without a decision on whether they even needed to be assessed under bipartisan legislation to protect prime farmland and groundwater.
Mr Hunt has promised to act immediately on the projects and complete strategic plans for the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, the Pilbara in Western Australia and the Hunter Valley in NSW.
Renewed urgency will be given to joint planning with state governments to manage bushfires in South Australia and development of north Queensland's major urban growth project at Mount Peter, 15km south of Cairns.
Mr Hunt said a master plan of environmental values and commonwealth concerns would enable the creation of a "one-stop shop" for environmental approvals promised by the Coalition.
Future projects would be measured against the strategic assessment template and state governments would be given the power to make assessments.
Writing in The Australian today, the parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister, Josh Frydenberg, says an "avalanche of green and red tape stifles investment and innovation, seriously hurting the economy".
Mr Frydenberg, who has responsibility for driving the government's deregulation agenda, has pledged a "paradigm shift" in tackling bureaucracy.
"Ministers will be required to include regulatory impact statements on their submissions as well as establishing their own ministerial advisory committees from which they will seek recommendations on cutting red and green tape," the Liberal MP writes today.
He says the performance of senior members of the public service "will be assessed in part according to their proven record in reducing regulation, with their remuneration calculated accordingly", and the Productivity Commission ordered to determine a framework for auditing the performance of regulatory agencies.
Business groups have lobbied hard for a review of the environmental review process, claiming it is delaying projects and threatening billions of dollars worth of investments.
Labor and the Greens had argued that state governments could not be trusted to make final environmental decisions on behalf of the commonwealth.
Environment groups have warned a full delegation of decision making to the states poses a risk to business of lengthy and expensive delays in the courts.
Mr Hunt said the strategic assessments were a "vital framework that has largely been missing".
Strategic assessments to date had focused on planning for major urban growth corridors rather than industrial projects, he said.
"It is a model where you really begin to look at the deep, long-term cumulative impacts."
Completing the strategic assessment of the Great Barrier Reef and onshore development in co-operation with the Queensland government was the Coalition government's priority.
"I think it is very important for our international commitments as well as to the future wellbeing of the Great Barrier Reef," Mr Hunt said. "The Great Barrier Reef is the No 1 environmental asset in Australia and you need to look at the reef as a whole."
Mr Hunt said he believed it would be possible to complete the strategic assessment of the Great Barrier Reef within two months.
The federal Environment Department has been instructed to have the remaining priority areas assessed and open for public exhibition in the first half of next year.
"The big picture is about achieving two things: a deep strategic assessment of the environment allows proper consideration of cumulative impacts and the connectedness of the region and it allows for a much more streamlined process," Mr Hunt said.
"If you know the environmental concerns of a region you don't have to reinvent them in every case. Everything is then seen against the grand strategic framework of the environment and the economy."
Mr Hunt said environmental decision making had become paralysed in the final months of the Gillard/Rudd government.
He said 50 projects had been left "in complete limbo" because the Labor government had been unable to make a decision on whether they should even be assessed under the new water trigger legislation.
"They didn't make a single decision after the legislation was passed," Mr Hunt said.
"It was not even whether projects should proceed but whether they should even be considered. From my perspective it is a legacy of complete chaos that 50 decisions are left in limbo. It is not right that the law is changed and there is then complete indecision about what you do about it.
"The dying months (of Labor) were a complete paralysis."
- See more at: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/coalition-bid-to-fix-project-paralysis/story-fn59niix-1226724820024#sthash.uDQped7F.dpuf