The government of Australia announced on October 16 approval of a framework for achieving a “one-stop shop” to streamline environmental approvals. The effort has an objective of simplifying a multilevel approvals process that currently involves federal, state and local governments. 

The federal government announcement was issued by Minister for the Environment Greg Hunt and came on the heels of an announcement by the Queensland state government on October 14 that it has adopted a new approvals process for coal and minerals exploration that will give landholders and resources companies more certainty by allowing for earlier engagement and faster approvals.

The one-stop shop will be achieved through a three-step process. The first step is the signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with each of the willing states on key principles and confirming cooperation on achieving a single process. Not wasting time, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Queensland Premier Campbell Newman signed such an MoU on October 18.

The second step will be the signing of agreements on bilateral assessments between the federal and willing state governments, which update agreements that are already in place. The third step will be signing of federal/state agreements with each of the willing states within 12 months for a bilateral approvals process for future approvals.

“This is about setting the highest standards, making swift decisions and delivering certain outcomes,” Hunt said. “The government will also continue working with the states on approving strategic assessments that provide a further simplification of the process for project approvals. To assist the process, the federal government is also offering to place staff in the state offices to ensure the implementation occurs as smoothly and as quickly as possible.” 

Queensland’s new approvals process for coal and minerals exploration has the potential to halve the time taken for resource companies to be granted exploration permits, while maintaining rigorous environmental, native title and land access assessments, Queensland Minister for Natural Resources and Mines Andrew Cripps said. 

The more streamlined process means exploration permits subject to native title can be decided in less than 12 months, while permits not subject to native title can be determined in six months or sooner. This is a significant reduction on the average 22 months it currently takes for an exploration permit application to be processed to the stage where it can be granted or rejected.

The new approach also means mining companies no longer need to wait until an exploration permit is granted before engaging with landholders about proposed exploration activities. Those discussions can now happen much earlier, giving rural producers more time to consider and negotiate land access and conduct and compensation agreements put to them by resource companies.

In line with Queensland’s existing regulatory framework, no exploration activities can begin in an area prior to a permit being granted. Applications to explore will be subject to the existing stringent assessment process to ensure they meet strict environmental, technical and commercial viability, community interest, native title, and land access requirements.

MRRT Up for Repeal: In other Australian government mining-related news, on October 24, the federal government released draft legislation for the repeal of the Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT) that became effective on July 1, 2012. “Consistent with the government’s clear election mandate, the Minerals Resource Rent Tax Repeal and Other Measures Bill 2013 will abolish the failed MRRT from July 1, 2014,” a government media release said. “The MRRT is a complex and unnecessary tax that struggled to raise the substantial revenue predicted by the former government. Further still, this failed tax imposed significant compliance costs on one of our most important industries, while damaging business confidence, which is critical to future investment and jobs.”

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