AMEC made the call at its Mining and the Environment conference in Perth on Tuesday, with CEO Simon Bennison expressing mixed feelings about new reforms by the Western Australian government.
While he welcomed the Mining Rehabilitation Fund – which last year returned $A1 billion in unconditional performance bonds to tenement holders – he flagged the introduction of new fees for assessing mining proposals and programme works to fund additional compliance officers as “inappropriate”
“These fees have been calculated to fund a shortfall of $2.7 million in the Department of Mines and Petroleum’s Reforming Environmental Regulation (RER) budget,” he said.
“This is encouraging poor business practices and sets a precedent on how the agency will finance future shortfalls in its budget.
“Industry has been cutting costs and increasing productivity wherever possible and the agency must be seeking to do the same. AMEC is requesting efficiency gains within the agency and alternatives to be investigated to fund the shortfall.”
WA Minister for Mines and Petroleum Bill Marmion defended the fees, saying they were “modest” compared with those in Queensland.
From July, the fee system will see charges of $6950 introduced for each mining proposal application submitted and $590 for program of work applications. Mining proposals can last the life of the mine, while programs of work last for four years. Charges for low-impact exploration will be waived.
“In Queensland, the charges are $1800 a year for exploration and prospecting activities and up to $76,000 a year for mining activities,” Marmion said in his opening address at the conference.
“I also asked the Department of Mines and Petroleum to fund the $2.1 million cost-recovery shortfall, no mean feat at a time when the public sector is already under extreme pressure to cut costs while maintaining and improving services to WA taxpayers.
“What I’m saying is that the government is standing shoulder to shoulder with the mining industry in these challenging conditions.”
But Bennison remained unimpressed, calling the comparative analysis with Queensland “nonsense”.
“The fee structure is very different between the states,” he said. “The ‘low impact’ threshold of 0.25 hectares is also far too small and inadequate for exploration activity.”
He said he hoped the conference would foster even more collaboration between industry and government to “achieve the best environmental outcomes and processes”, while Marmion said the DMP would continue to consult with AMEC over policy reforms.
The Environmental Protection Authority also joined the call for collaboration, with chair Paul Vogel emphasising the need for a more collegiate approach in research and information sharing.
He predicted the four main environmental challenges to hit the industry in coming years would be around environmental knowledge, mine closure and rehabilitation, cumulative impacts and strategic environmental approaches between government and industry.
“We need to get realistic about what can be rehabilitated and we need strategic approaches between government and industry to deal with these issues,” he said.
“Cumulative impacts are a big issue in Western Australia. About three or four years ago we didn’t have the geographic information systems to look at the mining footprint [but] we’re starting to get a feel of the growing cumulative impacts in the region [and] we need government and industry collectively working together on these big topics.
“Our understanding of complex ecosystems and their interaction is inadequate and uncertainties are bound, but nonetheless decisions will need to be made.
“We therefore need to make sure we have fit-for-purpose environmental information and knowledge to inform decision-making.”
Vogel praised the state government’s commitment to a free, central repository in the form of a state environmental data library as an important step in the right direction.