On 22 October 2012, Premier Campbell Newman lifted Queensland’s 23 year ban on uranium mining making Queensland the fifth Australian state to revoke the ban on uranium mining. On 30 October 2012, the Premier convened the Uranium Implementation Committee to advise on the best practice policy and regulatory framework for uranium mining. The Committee released its report today with recommendations setting the pathway to guide the recommencement of Queensland’s uranium mining and export industries.
Prior to the release of its report, the Uranium Implementation Committee (“Committee”) sought submissions from various groups with diverse interests and opinions regarding uranium mining. Groups of submitters included conservation groups, local and State governments, resource industry peak bodies and the uranium industry.
The Committee’s decision to seek submissions was to ensure that a balanced approach – which applies the best environmental and safety standards while maximising commercial opportunities - is adopted.
Overview of the Committee’s report and recommendations
The Committee’s report released on 18 March 2013 is supportive of uranium mining in Queensland. Although a number of recommendations may need to be implemented prior to uranium mining recommencing, the report was largely good news for the uranium industry.
In summary, the Committee concluded that, with certain adaptations, Queensland’s existing system for regulating mining and radiation safety is appropriate for uranium mining together with existing industry standards and federal regulations.
The Committee’s key recommendations for adapting or improving the current framework are discussed below.
Streamlining approval processes for uranium mining
The Committee recommended that all uranium mining proposals be facilitated as a ‘coordinated project’ under the State Development and Public Works Organisation Act1971 (Qld) and under the bilateral agreement between the Queensland and Australian governments under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth).
The Committee stated its support for initiatives that reduce greentape and enhance the efficiency of approval processes while maintaining its rigour.
In particular, the Committee recommended that model conditions for Environmental Authorities (“EA”) associated with uranium mining be developed. This will bring the uranium mining industry in parity with the coal mining and petroleum industries for which EA model conditions already exist.
The Committee found that Queensland’s existing tenure framework is robust and accommodating of uranium mining without need for change.
Environmental safeguards and rehabilitation
The Committee recommended that a whole-of-government Uranium Mining Oversight Committee (“UMOC”) be established to oversee the environmental compliance and performance of uranium mines during operations and in the rehabilitation/closure phases.
In addition, the UMOC will provide advice to the Coordinator-General in assessing uranium mining projects. Terms of reference for the UMOC are included in the Committee’s report.
The Committee recommended that the existing requirements by the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection with respect to financial assurance for mine rehabilitation apply to uranium mining.
The Committee recommended that Queensland work with other State governments to further harmonise transport regulations affecting the uranium industry including the mutual recognition of transport licences. Interstate collaboration should aim for facilitating the use of existing ports and shipping lanes including in Darwin and Adelaide.
Workplace health and safety including radiation safety
The Committee found that the Queensland government's workplace health and safety regulatory regime (under mining legislation) and radiation safety (under the Radiation Safety Act 1999 (Qld)) was suitable for uranium mining.
However, the Committee recommended redrafting of mine safety guidelines to ensure consistency with ARPANSA guidelines and radiation safety training for mine inspectors. It further recommended that Queensland Health develop/improve emergency procedures for radiation safety and stronger governance arrangements between Queensland Health and the Department of Natural Resources and Mines.
The Committee recommended a new mine royalty concession rate apply for the first five years at the rate of 2.5% escalating to 5% after that.
Regional development and job opportunities
The Committee made recommendations for collaboration between the government and industry that addresses barriers which currently prevent indigenous communities from accessing the greater potential benefits posed by the resources sector. Suggestions included a ‘mining training and business development initiative’.
For further information
The Committee’s report may be accessed here.