Saturday, April 14, 2012
The agreement to streamline approvals for economic developments in environmentally sensitive locations came at a Council of Australian Governments meeting in Canberra, which despite opening with hostility and political posturing, ticked off a skills package worth $1.75 billion and a national partnership on mental health.
Yesterday's COAG also included the vindication of a 15-month campaign for an inquiry into soaring construction costs by Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu.
COAG asked the heads of federal and state treasuries to report in a month with an analysis of the issue, with a view to possibly referring it to the Productivity Commission. "Reality has prevailed," Mr Baillieu told The Saturday Age. "Momentum is building now. The Business Council produced estimates yesterday that the costs of construction are 40 per cent higher in Australia than in the US. Our paper estimated that they have escalated at twice the rate of inflation over the past 10 years.
"Escalating construction costs are pricing us out of infrastructure. When a grade separation is costing $250 million to $300 million, then it's a huge cost. We've got to get to all the factors that have gone into these escalating costs."
Victoria is, however, continuing to hold out against a national system of occupational health and safety laws viewing the proposal as harmful to business. Going into the talks, the Queensland and New South Wales premiers were threatening to scuttle Julia Gillard's proposal, endorsed by business leaders, for less cumbersome environmental approvals.
But despite the fighting words including a demand from Campbell Newman to approve developments in Queensland's World Heritage areas they agreed after a relatively minor concession from Ms Gillard.
Thursday's proposal gave Canberra final approvals for developments in World Heritage areas and "high risk" projects. Yesterday's amended proposal said the Commonwealth would approve in World Heritage areas, and all "nuclear actions, defence development, and developments affecting Commonwealth waters".
COAG discussed Canberra's proposal for a national disability insurance scheme and the premiers also emerged with a specific time frame for the release of a report on the future carve-up of GST revenues.
The meeting agreed the document would be released before the May 8 budget.