Victoria to raise the bar for mining exemptions

The Victorian Minister for Energy and Resources recently introduced the Mineral Resources (Sustainable Development) Amendment Bill 2013 (Vic) (the Amendment Bill) into the Victorian Parliament.

The Amendment Bill, if passed, will likely make it more difficult for land to be declared exempt from exploration and mining licences. The Minister will now be required to consider the value of mineral resources (including coal seam gas) before an exemption is granted.

Under the existing Mineral Resources (Sustainable Development) Act 1990 (Vic) (the Act), the Minister has the power to exempt any land from being subject to a licence granted under the Act (i.e., exploration licence, mining licence, prospecting licence or retention licence). Currently, when deciding whether to grant an exemption, the Minister must take into account ‘the social and economic implications of the decision’.

What will change?
The Amendment Bill would amend the Act so that the Minister would be obliged to take into account ‘the known or potential value of mineral resources on the land and the impact that the proposed exemption may have on that value’ when deciding whether to exempt land from being subject to a licence.

The amendment has been proposed following recommendations made by the Victorian Parliament’s Economic Development and Infrastructure Committee in its inquiry into greenfields mineral exploration and project development in Victoria (22 May 2013).

In particular, the Committee had recommended that the Victorian Government develops a land use policy framework to better manage competing land uses in Victoria.

Who will be impacted?
The impact of the proposed amendment is likely to make the Victorian mining legislation more conducive to the development of the mineral and extractive resources industries. In doing so, the changes will be of concern to community groups seeking to apply for mining exemptions to prevent exploration and mining (including in respect of coal seam gas) in their local areas.

The Amendment Bill also contains other proposed amendments to the Act which are aimed at reducing the administrative and regulatory burden on industry, including the introduction of statutory time frames for the processing of licence applications and the streamlining of work plan requirements.

For further information, please contact Myra Stirling, Senior Associate, Liam Hickey, Solicitor or your usual Herbert Smith Freehills contact.

NSW streamlines standard mining lease conditions

On 17 October 2013, the NSW Resources and Energy Minister Chris Hartcher announced significant amendments to the standard conditions for mining leases to reduce regulatory duplication. The amendments will result in the removal of conditions that that seek to address matters already regulated by other government departments, such as the Department of Planning. The amendments will also involve the deletion of conditions that are covered by obligations under the Mining Act and other mine safety legislation, as well as other conditions that have become outdated and redundant.

The removal of the duplications will cut the number of conditions for future standard coal mining leases in NSW from 24 to nine, and for other mining leases from 23 to eight. The NSW announcement comes a week after the Queensland government said it would streamline the approvals process for exploration permits for coal and mineral exploration.

NSW Resources and Energy Minister Chris Hartcher said the changes are part of a range of actions the Government is taking to minimise the costs of doing business in NSW and boost investment certainty. The NSW Government has already committed to new service delivery standards, reducing the times for assessing applications under the Mining Act from 1 July 2013. Target time frames for assessing all minerals applications will be cut to 45 business days (from 80 business days), while times for processing coal applications and coal renewals will be reduced to 95 business days and 55 business days respectively.

Another phase of the Streamlining Act rolled out

The latest phase in the slow roll out of the Mines Legislation (Streamlining) Amendment Act 2012, which was passed by State Parliament in August 2012, began last week, though it is not known when the remainder of the legislation will commence.

However given the extent of modification to the existing tenure administration regime, particularly in relation to post-grant dealing registrations, it is likely that we will not see the full system operating for quite some months.

Substantive parts of the tenure administration amendments that commenced last week under this new phase, include key changes, such as:

  • the Minister can now approve mining leases and 1923 petroleum leases  
  • new exploration permit relinquishment requirements (40% by end of year 3, 50% of remaining area by end of year 5)
  • new ability to withdraw objections on mining claims and mining leases
  • Minister’s new ability to issue “notice to progress” applications, and any failure to comply will allow the Minister to reject applications