Paul Osborne
(Australian Associated Press)

The first steps are being taken towards a so-called single-touch environmental approval system for major projects.

Environment Minister Sussan Ley will introduce a bill to the federal parliament on Thursday which she says will make minor technical amendments, paving the way for the states to take a key role in approvals.

Labor wants an independent watchdog established, while the Greens say the laws should be delayed at least until a final report into the system is completed in October.

The premiers agreed to streamline the system at a national cabinet meeting on July 24.

They are seeking a 50 per cent reduction in commonwealth assessment and approval times, from an average of 3.5 years to 21 months.

Ms Ley said the national environmental standards underpinning the system are still the subject of consultation.

However she will not wait for former competition watchdog Graeme Samuel’s final report to take action.

Ms Ley said the government had no intention of creating a separate agency, however it would be an “independent regulatory process”.

“Why build a totally separate agency if these functions can be done within government and done well – this is about outcomes, not design,” she told Sky News on Wednesday.

Talks are also underway involving Indigenous affairs and environment ministers from across the country on ensuring Indigenous heritage is better protected.

In May, mining giant Rio Tinto destroyed ancient Aboriginal rock shelters in WA’s Pilbara region.

Ms Ley said she and Indigenous Australians Minister Ken Wyatt would be meeting with their state and territory counterparts to discuss ways to ensure such actions never again occur.