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Streamlining Bill to cut resources red tape

The resource sector is set to have a significant bureaucratic burden lifted, as the Western Australian Government shapes reforms to the Mining Act 1978 (WA) to streamline its approvals processes.

The Streamlining (Mining Amendment) Bill 2021 (WA) (Bill) was initiated to cut red tape and encourage economic activity in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Not only does the draft legislation aim to save the need for reams of documentation, it also seeks to:

  • Provide a system for instantaneous approvals for ‘low impact’ mechanised ground disturbance activity;
  • Create greater clarity for tenement holders and government officials regarding the relevant approvals and conditions attached to a project; and
  • Reduce the regulatory burden for both industry and the regulator, saving time and effort for all involved.

The proposed reforms, which are currently open to industry consultation through the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (DMIRS), look to effect these improvements through three key changes:

Low impact notifications

Currently, those seeking authorisation for mechanised ground disturbance activities must submit a Programme of Work to DMIRS. This is subsequently assessed by an environment officer within the Department. More often than not, these applications are for standard, low-impact works with minimal environmental risk.

Recognising a significant portion of applications fall within this type of uncontroversial, low-impact work, the Bill proposes an alternative pathway through an almost instantaneous online approvals process.

Using this alternative pathway, a tenement holder can lodge a Low Impact Notification (LIN) via an online system. If the LIN meets the required conditions, the application is approved automatically, imposing standard conditions on the conduct of the activity. Work can begin as soon as the LIN is approved.

Crucially, this alternative pathway removes the need for a DMIRS officer to assess the activities prior to authorisation being granted. This means less time waiting for approval and allows prospectors and small miners to commence work faster.

The LIN system will also have tangible benefits for those with more significant or complex Programmes of Work. In particular, the number of applications which an environment officer will have to assess will be significantly reduced, allowing DMIRS staff to focus on the more complex applications and as a result cutting down waiting times across the board.

Finally, what constitutes a ‘low-impact’ activity remains undefined and will be the subject of significant further industry consultation. What constitutes low impact will be prescribed in the Mining Regulations 1981.

Approvals Statements

The Bill introduces the concept of an Approvals Statement, which will serve as the single source of truth, identify all approved mining operations and their corresponding conditions for a mine site. In addition, the Approvals Statement will detail the closure outcomes for the mine and the review date for the Mine Closure Plan. A mine site which covers several tenements will have all relevant tenements included in the one Approvals Statement.

Importantly, an Approvals Statement will likely be around 10-15 pages – a dramatic reduction from the hundreds of pages of supporting documents currently required from tenement holders.

By clearly setting out the relevant approved activities and conditions for the mine site on a single Approvals Statement, this reform seeks to improve clarity for both industry and DMIRS around the tenement holder’s obligations and approvals, making it easier for all parties to manage compliance.

This development is especially beneficial for mine sites with multiple tenements as it makes it easier for tenement holders to manage compliance tenement conditions. Similarly, this process will create greater clarity around approvals and conditions for projects which have operated for decades.

The Approvals Statement is designed to be updated during the life of mine. Any necessary changes to approved activities or conditions will be amended on the Approvals Statement.

Supporting administrative amendments: Mine Development and Closure Proposal

To cut down on duplication, the Bill proposes to combine the mining proposal and mine closure plan into a single Mine Development and Closure Proposal (MDCP). Currently, the two documents contain significant duplication and crossover.

The MDCP would include detailed information regarding the:

  • Proposed mining operations;
  • Decommissioning of the proposed mine; and
  • Rehabilitation of the land.

These proposed activities will be subject to the mining tenement and closure outcomes as well as any other prescribed information. Importantly, the MDCP will help to greater clarity around mine closure outcomes.

How can I be involved?

The Bill is still open for consultation, with DMIRS hosting several public forums to detail the changes, answer questions and receive feedback on the proposed reforms. Stakeholders can also provide written submissions to the Department as part of this process.

While the consultation window for the draft legislation closes on 25 June 2021, this is not the end of the conversation. DMIRS will continue to undertake further industry engagement to ensure the reforms operate as efficiently and effectively as possible.

The Bill is planned to be introduced into State Parliament in September. In the meantime, DMIRS encourage all stakeholders to engage in this important process and have their say in how the industry will operate.

Any further queries or feedback regarding the proposed reforms can be sent to REC.Consultation@dmirs.wa.gov.au. Additional information is available on the DMIRS website.

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