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The Federal Government has announced a fresh infrastructure boost to combat the COVID-19 downturn, including $1.5 billion of new money to get smaller-scale projects moving quickly.

It is also looking to accelerate the approval processes for 15 mega projects representing about $72 billion worth of planned investment by government and the private sector.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the measures at the CEDA State of the Nation conference this week.

He said $1 billion would be allocated to priority projects which were shovel-ready, and $500 million would be reserved specifically to target road safety works. 

“This is an important opportunity to make our roads safer right across the country, not just in rural and regional areas where it is critically important but also in other parts of the country,” he said.

Further announcements on the specific projects funded will be made soon.

‘Green tape’ delays in line of fire

Among the measures Mr Morrison detailed to get the investment pipeline flowing were plans to cut delays in projects gaining approval under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

“According to departmental estimates, delays associated with these approvals alone cost industry over $300 million just in 2019. That’s not good enough,” he said.

“The Commonwealth has already taken steps to cut project approval times under the EPBC Act. At the end of 2019, approval decisions took 90 days on average. Today they take 40. That is what we’ve achieved this year in 2020.

“Our goal is to cut these times by a further 25 percent by the end of this year – to 30 days for major projects.

“Ultimately, our objective is the streamlining of Commonwealth and state processes to a point of ‘single touch approvals’.”

Priority list for fast-tracked approval 

He also announced a priority list of 15 major projects that were on the fast-track for approval under a bilateral model between the Commonwealth, states and territories.

“Joint assessment teams will work on accelerating these projects worth more than $72 billion in public and private investment. Projects that will support over 66,000 direct and indirect jobs,” Mr Morrison said.

“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.”

This priority list includes:

  • Inland Rail from Melbourne to Brisbane;
  • Marinus Link between Tasmania and Victoria;
  • Olympic Dam extension in South Australia;
  • Emergency town water projects in New South Wales; and 
  • Road, rail and iron ore projects in Western Australia.