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Grim predictions on job numbers

Employment statistics are due out today and economists are edgy.

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THE Gillard government and the states, including NSW, will back business demands for faster environmental approvals and the abolition of redundant climate change policies.

Before today's first pre-Council of Australian Governments meeting between business leaders, the Prime Minister and the premiers, the federal and state governments indicated the business push to streamline environmental approvals would be endorsed.

And the Climate Change Minister, Greg Combet, told the Herald he had already set up a process with state ministers to weed out expensive and inefficient climate change programs after the carbon tax is introduced in July.

"Unneccessary green tape at Commonwealth level is costing jobs, driving up costs and holding back economic growth" ... NSW Premier, Barry O'Farrell.

"Unneccessary green tape at Commonwealth level is costing jobs, driving up costs and holding back economic growth" ... NSW Premier, Barry O'Farrell. Photo: Peter Rae

But Mr Combet rejected the business push for the mandatory 20 per cent renewable energy target and the government's proposed $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation to be wound back.

The agreement to speed up environmental assessments is likely to anger the Greens, who labelled the idea ''a war on the Australian people's quality of life and the environment by the big end of town''.

In a joint submission for today's meeting, the nation's peak business and industry groups complained the environmental impact process, which involves separate state and federal government assessments, needed to be streamlined.

They stressed the need ''to remove the double handling of environmental assessments that do nothing to improve environmental outcomes but risk the cost effectiveness and competitiveness'' of an estimated $900 billion in planned resources and infrastructure projects.

The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, is expected to endorse this today, as is Barry O'Farrell and his counterparts.

''The business sector has been highlighting the costs and delays that occur when project proposals are forced to go through two sets of assessment and approval process, state and Commonwealth, often asking the same questions at different stages in the assessment and approvals process,'' Mr O'Farrell told the Herald. ''Unnecessary green tape at Commonwealth level is costing jobs, driving up costs and holding back economic growth.''

The South Australian Labor Premier, Jay Weatherill, who, as the chairman of the Council for the Australian Federation, will represent the state and territory leaders at today's meeting, welcomed the initiatives proposed by the business groups.

He singled out as having ''great merit'' the proposal to remove the state-federal jurisdiction from the environmental impact assessment process.

He also praised proposals to ''de-clutter'' the COAG process and to adopt a more risk-based approach to regulation.

The business groups said COAG needed a stronger focus on reforms that lower costs, increase competition and increase productivity.

''I look forward to working with the business and industry leaders in the interests of the national economy,'' Mr Weatherill said.

The business groups demanded that with the introduction of the catch-all price on carbon on July 1, ''unnecessary'' carbon reduction and energy efficiency schemes should be abolished.

Mr Combet said a COAG select committee had already endorsed a set of principles against which more than 200 climate change programs would be judged.

The principles require that climate change policies should only operate on top of the carbon price when the price was insufficient to overcome a market failure and when the extra policy was cost-effective. The select committee will meet again next month.

Twenty-six business leaders will attend the meeting, including business group heads and chief executives such as BHP's Marius Kloppers, Cameron Clyne of the National Australia Bank and Westpac's Gail Kelly. The business leaders will make recommendations to tomorrow's COAG meeting.

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