The Minerals Industry Taskforce (Taskforce) was formed in 2014 with the goal of addressing challenges faced by the NSW minerals industry, and to drive growth, innovation and productivity in the industry. The Draft Industry Action Plan (Draft IAP) has been developed by the Taskforce and proposes a number of strategies that are aimed at reversing the fall in mining capital expenditure in NSW and increasing the value of mineral production by 30% by 2020. The Draft IAP is a long-term strategy, and is seeking the NSW Government’s commitment to the following priority areas:
- a transparent process and integration policy that provides certainty for mining companies investing in NSW
- providing fiscal certainty – ensuring no increase to royalties over the next 25 years and a consolidation of fees and charges to reduce these in real terms over time, and
- developing skills and providing supporting infrastructure to foster a vibrant mining sector.
The flaws in the current planning approval process
The Draft IAP indicates that reform to the planning and regulatory decision making regime is the single most important initiative that the NSW Government can implement to address the current flaws in the process, which include:
- delays in the assessment and determination of projects – alarmingly, a development application can take up to 1323 days from the date of submitting an application to when a decision is made as to whether the development can proceed
- lack of accountability and responsibility in the decision making of the Planning Assessment Commission (PAC)
- failure of the PAC to follow government policy and the advice of the Department of Planning and Environment, and
- manipulation and abuse of the PAC referral and hearing process to deliberately delay a decision being made by the PAC and mislead the PAC about often trivial issues.
Recommendations of the Taskforce
The Taskforce has made 12 recommendations to address the above priority areas, including a number of fundamental changes to the planning approvals process and the role of the PAC in the determination of mining related projects.
Transparent process and integrated policy
The following recommendations have been made by the Taskforce to address the significant issues associated with the planning approval process:
- the Taskforce argues for the removal of PAC as the answer to the ‘broken’ process, or at the least the following reforms are considered vital to improving the system:
- projects undergo only one rigorous and thorough review process and are not subject to a merits-based review, and
- if the PAC is to be retained the following further changes are required:
- return of decision-making authority to the elected government
- finalisation of clear policy parameters for project assessment
- tighten the scope for any PAC assessment
- introduction of clear timeframes for the PAC process, and
- reform of the PAC referral and hearings process
- establishment of a lead agency with the authority, sufficient capability and power to drive cross-agency decisions – this body should be the single point of contact for major resource and industry infrastructure projects
- streamlining the decision-making processes and addressing policy gaps with an emphasis on implementing outcomes and risk based regulation. For example, the Draft IAP advocates for the reintroduction of a broad based modification power for State significant development into the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979
- NSW Government excellence in service delivery and regulation – the Taskforce recommends that an online lodgment and tracking capability be developed
- clear communication of NSW’s robust regulatory regime by providing clear and factual information to the public, and
- continue to provide information to, and engage with communities – encouraging the use of community liaison officers by NSW Trade and Investment.
A number of industry-specific taxes are levied on the minerals industry by the NSW Government such as mining royalties, fees and levies. Stability in taxes and levies will lead to investor confidence and in turn, the growth of the sectors.
The Taskforce is seeking a commitment from the NSW Government for:
- no increases in royalties for the next 25 years, and
- consolidation of mining related fees and levies, and a reduction in the real cost to explorers and miners over the long-term.
The above changes will reduce investment risk by increasing certainty, resulting in increased capital investment in NSW mineral projects.
Developing skills and providing supporting infrastructure
Finally, the Taskforce proposes a number of changes to ensure that the NSW Government works together with industry and the skills and training sector to ensure direct investment in developing and maintaining a skilled workforce for a competitive and growing minerals industry.
Other recommendations include improvements to pre-competitive geosciences information, funding for research in deep cover exploration, mining operations productivity and low emission energy technology and enhancements to ensure the competitiveness and efficiency of the NSW freight network.
Submissions on the report can be submitted via email to the Taskforce’s secretariat (firstname.lastname@example.org) or by post, Minerals Taskforce secretariat, GPO Box 5477, Sydney NSW 2001 until 5pm Friday, 19 December 2014.