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22 Oct 13
No more waiting for decisions on exploration tenure

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The Queensland Government’s announcement of its overhaul of the approvals process for coal and mineral exploration in the State will allow for earlier engagement and faster approvals.  Industry will welcome this new process, which could halve the time taken for companies to be granted exploration permits.

Background
In Queensland, it currently takes about 22 months for an exploration permit application to be processed to the stage where it can be granted or rejected.  This can result in increased costs and uncertainty for explorers.

The Department of Natural Resources and Mines has announced that it will adopt an approach of parallel processing for the Environmental Authority, tenure and Native Title processes for exploration permits for coal and minerals. 

What this means for explorers
Under the new process:

  • companies will now be formally advised within 90 days of lodgement whether their proposed exploration works program for a project has been approved or rejected
  • for successful applications not subject to native title, once a work program has been approved and an environmental authority has been issued, a permit can be granted after annual rent has been paid
  • for applications subject to native title, companies can start required native title processes and engage landholders about conduct and compensation arrangements a lot sooner, and
  • the Department will finalise these permit applications within 30 days of the native title process being concluded.

The outcome
For the first time, explorers will have a technical decision on their work program within 90 days.  The new process means companies no longer need to wait until an exploration permit is granted before engaging with stakeholders about their proposed exploration activities.

As well as being able to better plan their exploration programs, it gives Queensland explorers more time to consult with landholders and local governments; so when tenure is granted, they can get started immediately.  Importantly, no changes have been made to legislative requirements for tenure grant, native title, engaging with landowners or obtaining an environmental authority.  Explorers must meet each of these requirements but it is hoped that the overall approval timeframe can be significantly reduced.

Latest developments
On 18 October 2013, the Commonwealth and State government signed an MOU promising to deliver a one stop shop for environmental approvals in the form of an approvals bilateral agreement under the EPBC Act within 12 months.  Currently, Queensland has an assessment bilateral agreement in place, which allows a single environmental assessment process to be followed but requires two separate approvals to be obtained.  An approvals bilateral should reduce the environmental approval time frame for major projects.  However, amendments made to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment Bill 2013 (Cth) shortly before its passage mean that actions involving coal seam gas or mining which are likely to impact on water resources will not be able to be approved under a bilateral agreement as envisaged by the MOU. 

Find out more at Mining Convention 2013
McCullough Robertson’s Resources Group will be on hand at booth 103 at the annual Mining Convention at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre from 23 to 25 October 2013 to answer any questions you may have in relation to these changes.

If you are attending the conference please also drop by Auditorium 1 on 23 October at 11.50am where Partners Derek Pocock, Hayden Bentley and Isaac West will be presenting on Flow-through capital raising, analysts briefings and the new JORC Code.

 

Focus covers legal and technical issues in a general way. It is not designed to express opinions on specific cases. Focus is intended for information purposes only and should not be regarded as legal advice. Further advice should be obtained before taking action on any issue dealt with in this publication.

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