Exploration inquiry underway

REGULATORY barriers preventing mineral and resource companies from progressing exploration will be the focus of a new government inquiry, but one industry group says the scope is not wide enough.
Exploration inquiry underway Exploration inquiry underway Exploration inquiry underway Exploration inquiry underway Exploration inquiry underway

Federal Minister for Resources and Energy Martin Ferguson

Brooke Showers

Federal Assistant Treasurer David Bradbury and Minister for Resources and Energy Martin Ferguson have announced the inquiry into non-finance barriers to mineral and energy resource exploration as the subject of a new Productivity Commission inquiry.

Ferguson said the inquiry would outline reform options to address barriers to exploration for mineral and energy resources in Australia.

“The inquiry will examine exploration approvals systems and processes, within and across jurisdictions, to assess their effectiveness and efficiency,” Ferguson said.

A key focus will be assessing duplication across state, territory and federal regulation, costs associated with government processes and broader economic expense.

Specifically, the commission will determine if there is evidence of regulatory burden, examine the complexity and timeframes of government approval process, and consider options to improve the regulatory environment.

However, the commission will not address local, state, territory and federal taxation, fiscal policy, financial incentives, fees, charges and royalties.

In response to the inquiry, the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies said it was disappointed it excluded financial barriers and the cost of production impacting the Australian mining sector’s international competitiveness.

AMEC welcomed any inquiry that would streamline processes and remove duplication between state and federal departments. But he did not believe the inquiry stretched far enough.

“It is disappointing the scope of the inquiry is not broader so that all aspects of the approvals system are covered and put into context,” AMEC chief executive officer Simon Bennison said.

“Just addressing certain aspects in isolation will not provide the level of efficiencies that are really needed to make a difference.”

Bennison said AMEC would aim to work with the government to address the biggest hurdles facing the industry by developing a fully integrated exploration strategy upon the release of a draft consultation report.

The inquiry was recommended by the Policy Transition Group, established by the government, which advises on the implementation and technical design elements of the new resource taxation reforms, and the corresponding impact on minerals and petroleum exploration.

Regulation issues were raised at an investment conference in Adelaide yesterday when Minotaur Exploration managing director Andrew Woskett said explorers in South Australia were experiencing growing antipathy to low-level exploration.

According to Woskett, if the mining industry did not push for “improved” regulation, investment sentiment could be driven down and offshore.

“Land is being increasingly isolated from exploration through new conservation zones and zealous political over-reaction to pressure points,” he said.

"We must ensure that access to minerals is not unduly diminished through legislative reform, social activism, land rights, ambit Native Title claims, and populist politics.”

Native Title and indigenous heritage will not be covered in the scope of the Productivity Commission inquiry. Issues surrounding these topics were already being considered through a separate process.

The Productivity Commission inquiry starts this month. It will release a draft report for consultation and conduct public hearings before the final report is delivered in 12 months.

This article first appeared in ILN's sister publication MiningNews.net.