WA Premier Colin Barnett is concerned the $30 billion Kimberley gas hub involving some of the world’s biggest oil companies could become the next casualty of pressure from green groups before the next election.
The federal government on Thursday defended its approvals process after Queensland and Western Australia claimed big mining projects were being held up by the Commonwealth.
These included Rio Tinto’s $1.4 billion South of Embley project in Cape York and Toro Energy’s Wiluna project in WA.
The states warned Environment Minister Tony Burke against blocking or delaying mining projects to boost its support among green voters.
Mr Barnett, already seething over Mr Burke’s decision late last year to delay final approval for the Toro project, which would be the state’s first uranium mine, said the approvals process should be apolitical.
“There’s been some indication in the Kimberley that despite a process that was agreed to by all groups, including environmental groups, that the Labor government in Canberra now tends to be back-tracking,” he said.
“I just don’t think you play politics with environmental approvals or any type of approval. There are set criteria, most environmental issues come down to a matter of science, and the science should prevail.”
Woodside Petroleum’s Browse gas project, to be built at James Price Point north of Broome, has divided the local community and is the subject of legal challenges from environmental and indigenous groups.
Mr Burke is yet to sign off on the project and Woodside and its joint-venture partners are due to make a final investment decision later this year. Former Greens leader Bob Brown has been one of the project’s most vocal critics, describing it as the “world’s biggest gas factory”.
Queensland acting premier Jeff Seeney said the extra environmental approvals placed on Rio’s South of Embley project in north Queensland – after complaints by environmentalists over shipping routes in the Great Barrier Reef – were politically motivated. “It’s a good example of where credible evidence-based, science-based process has been overtaken for political games,” he said.
“It’s an example of the approval process that has been delayed because of unnecessary political interference,” he said.
It is understood the federal government backed away from giving up its veto rights over the final approval of resources projects because the states and territories could not agree on a single approach. It believed this could provide less certainty for business and possibly open up legal risks.
Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson was overseas yesterday and unavailable for comment. Mr Burke is on annual leave.
A spokeswoman for Mr Burke said the federal government was committed to streamlining environmental assessment and approval processes.
“This commitment includes introducing legislative reforms in 2013 and also working with states, through strategic assessments and by improving existing single assessment arrangements,” the spokeswoman said.