Australia wants to streamline resource sector regulation

Adani’s Carmichael project, pictured here, is the largest coal mine in Australia and it took eight years to be approved. Photo by Banktrack.org.

Australia’s Productivity Commission will conduct a 12-month review aimed at streamlining regulation in the resources sector.

In an official communiqué, Commission representatives said the plan is to look at best-practice examples of regulation, both in Australia and globally, that will remove unnecessary costs for businesses while maintaining sound oversight.

In the group’s view, the sector is being held back by complex layers of state and federal regulations, especially when it comes to environmental approvals.

The Productivity Commission believes the resource sector is being held back by complex layers of state and federal regulations, especially when it comes to environmental approvals

“While resources exports in the 2018-19 financial year reached an all-time record of $278 billion, we cannot take this success for granted. It has become harder than ever to get new resources projects off the ground, restricting the sector’s future expansion and costing jobs right across Australia,” the media statement reads.

According to the government office, the main goal of the review is to ensure that resources projects are transparently and efficiently assessed while upholding robust environmental standards. This work is expected to complement an upcoming review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, scheduled for October 2019.

The resource sector study will also examine community engagement practices and principles across jurisdictions, including best-practice community engagement, land-access and benefit-sharing practices by industry, governments and other bodies.

Following this announcement, the Minerals Council of Australia issued a statement praising the importance of the review taking into account that, in recent years, resource-based communities and mining companies have experienced significant delays for project approvals. As an example, the MCA mentioned Adani Group’s Carmichael coal and rail project in Queensland’s Galilee Basin, which took eight years to be approved; Korea Resources’ Wallarah 2 coal project in New South Wales, whose approval took 16 years; and Cameco’s Yeelirrie uranium project in Western Australia, which went ahead after five years of evaluations and negotiations.

“The minerals industry does not want to diminish environmental safeguards or standards, but a more efficient process is needed to meet regulatory objectives through the removal of duplicative and unnecessary processes which do not enhance environmental outcomes,” the Council’s CEO, Tania Constable, said in the brief. “Faster approvals for mining projects and greater certainty of process will support more highly paid, highly skilled jobs across Australia.”

In the name of the industry group, Constable issued a series of recommendations to the Commission, urging its members to take into consideration previous officers’ work, research by the Commission of Audit and the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission, analyses of the regulatory performance of Australia’s competitors – not just comparable economies, and the possibility of all state governments working together to end the duplication and overlap between environmental regulations and introduce risk-based approaches for assessments and approvals. 

“These reforms have the potential to unlock up to $170 billion of resources investment in Australia,” Constable said.

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