Testing times for Environment Online

Shadow Environment Minister Tjorn Sibma has expressed frustration with prolonged delays implementing the McGowan Government’s flagship Environment Online project, a $28 million digital approvals management platform which the Government claimed will save proponents between “six to twelve months” in having their proposals assessed.

The project is now running twenty-four months behind schedule, making any claims about the system saving anyone’s time largely illusory.

Delivery of the first component of Environment Online, a portal for the management of environmental impact assessments was first announced in the 2018-19 Budget at a cost of $9m, however the Government did not tender the project until 2021, when the project had grown to $28m. The new system is still undergoing testing and Phase 1 will not go live until August this year.

“While the Government talks up its red tape reduction credentials it is failing to deliver any practical outcomes following the passage of the Environmental Protection Amendment Act nearly two years ago.
“If the success of measures such as Environment Online are any guide to the McGowan Government’s commitment to red tape reduction, then it has simply failed to take any meaningful action on economic and public sector reform these last five years, and very little else can now be expected,” Mr Sibma said.

While the recent State Budget indicates that the entire Environment Online project will be complete and ready for use in another two years, the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation conceded through a parliamentary answer that the full functionality was still subject to further detailed planning.
There is a growing backlog of private and public sector projects worth billions of dollars awaiting proper environmental assessment, and the timeline on approvals has blown out to thousands of days for some key projects.

“Environment Online promises to be an effective ‘one touch’ resource but users will only believe it when they see it, and much of it should have already been in place before now,” Mr Sibma said.

Mr Sibma said that reform is difficult at the best of times but having three Environment Ministers in the last eighteen months has meant that effective and focussed ministerial oversight had not been applied to the project.