Red tape strangling NSW miners

FIVE hundred and seventy two pieces of legislation, regulation, guideline and code are entangling the New South Wales coal industry into a mess of duplication and delays. The NSW Minerals Council says it’s time for a change.
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Angie Tomlinson

In a submission to the Standing Committee on State Development’s Inquiry into the NSW Planning Framework, the NSWMC has made a case to streamline approval processes, particularly the relatively new Part 3A process governing environmental approval.

The NSWMC says the piecemeal fashion in which the regulatory framework has been put together over many years has created a tangled web for NSW producers.

“This has created a complex and inefficient system where multiple agencies have overlapping responsibilities and duplicative assessment and administrative requirements,” the council said.

“Feedback from NSWMC member companies has advised that regulatory duplication and delays are greater in NSW than in other Australian states, particularly Queensland. This threatens future investment in exploration and mining in NSW and the potential benefits it could provide if growth was fostered by supportive planning frameworks.”

Delay examples provided in the report include a 17-month wait for a mining lease approval and a 14-month subsidence plan approval.

NSW mineral production was worth $A14 billion last financial year, with coal accounting for 70% of that value.

The NSWMC has called for a “truly integrated, whole-of-government approach” to project assessments, approvals and ongoing reporting, compliance and enforcement mechanisms.

It is particularly perturbed by the practice of Part 3A under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979.

“The industry’s experience demonstrates the original goals of Part 3A are not being met; that is, removing ‘unnecessary red tape and bureaucratic delays’ and implementing a ‘one assessment – one approval’ approach. There are a range of changes needed to ensure mining projects are assessed in line with the principles of certainty, timeliness, efficiency and flexibility.”

The council recommended “sound administrative processes” were put in place so stakeholders, including government agencies, were aware of their role in the Part 3A assessment process.

It said the process should recognise the primacy of the Department of Planning and there should be strict statutory timeframes so operations could have certainty on timely approvals.

NSWMC said subsidiary approvals, such as environmental protection licences and mining leases, should be granted at the same time as project approval.

“This would avoid the unnecessary delays following project approval that are currently an issue for the industry.

“The approval of operational management plans should be limited to ensuring the framework of conditions set out in the project approval will be met, rather than being used as an opportunity to reassess the acceptability of impacts and impose additional conditions.”

It said streamlined processes for mining project modification were also required.

“Reform in this area is urgently needed. Current approval requirements for many modifications subject operators to unnecessary costs and delays, even when impacts will not exceed those already approved in project approval or development consent.

“Exempt development provisions should be broadened to permit a wider range of mining-related development to proceed without the need for further approval. There is also an opportunity for better use of complying development provisions to streamline building approvals.”

Looking at the big picture, NSWMC said better strategic planning was needed so different industries could better work together.

“Strategic planning could lead to the elimination of Commonwealth involvement in individual project assessments and approvals … which currently duplicates NSW assessment and approval processes.”