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Nature Positive 

The Commonwealth Government’s reforms to the Environmental Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, dubbed the Nature Positive reform, have recently been split into at least two parts.  As called for by AMEC, and the majority of Industry Associations, the Nature Positive reforms in their original form included four pieces of legislation: 

  1. Nature Positive Legislation 
  2. Environmental Protection Australia Legislation 
  3. Environmental Information Australia Legislation 
  4. Transitional Legislation
     

There are also six National Standards: 

  1. Matters of National Environmental Significance (MNES) 
  2. Restoration Actions and Restoration Contributions 
  3. Regional Planning 
  4. Community Engagement and Consultation 
  5. First Nations Engagement and Participation in Decision-making 
  6. Data and Information.

The original schedule was for legislation to be introduced to Parliament by the Winter Sittings. Now, the Government will only look to introduce the Environmental Protection Australia and Environmental Information Australia legislation in the next two weeks.  Both Bills are largely machinery legislation and establish the workings of both agencies.   

The Commonwealth EPA, while an identical acronym to State based Authorities, will not be an independent advisory body making recommendations on environmental assessment decisions.  It will be an independent statutory organisation issuing permits and licenses; undertaking project assessments, decisions and post-approvals; and performing compliance and enforcement.  A key concern for AMEC is that the proposed EPA will be responsible for environmental decision making, a role that was formerly held by the Environment Minister and then delegated where appropriate.  While the Government suggested mooted call-in powers will allow the Minister to step in where appropriate, industry feedback suggests concern that a non-elected faceless official will ultimately hold Australia’s economic fate in their hands.

The Environmental Information Australia agency (EIA) is the other independent statutory body the Commonwealth are looking to establish.  This agency will collate government and public environmental data and information, develop an online database, publish State of the Environment reports every 2 years, and report to Government on progress towards environmental outcomes. The first task that will be faced by the new EIA will be the development of a new National Environmental Standard for Data and Information. AMEC has concerns regarding the pragmatism of the draft data standards, which currently most surveys and data points would struggle to achieve. 

What the Government has phrased as a staged approach will mean the Nature Positive and Transitional Bill are further consulted upon.  Currently parts of each Bill have been viewed by Industry Associations in the closed room consultations in Canberra.  Of the six national standards that have been released, drafts of five have been seen, with the First Nations Engagement and Participation in Decision-making Standard still yet to be published. There is no timeframe on when the next closed door consultation will occur. To read the information that has been provided at these consultations, please go to this link The Government has also hosted public webinars, that are available here

AMEC has continued to voice concern to the Commonwealth Environment Minister and Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water (DCCEEW) regarding the lack of transparency in the current consultation.  It does not seem likely that industry will see a full draft of either pieces of legislation for two regulatory agencies that will govern environmental regulation in Australia prior to their entry to Parliament.

This is not good enough. Ironically, it would also fail the Commonwealth EPBC Act’s own expectation on consultations. 

There are fundamental concerns that need to be discussed: the sovereignty of Parliament over environmental decision making; State and Commonwealth regulatory duplication; the lack of streamlining; and the ever-increasing cost of doing business in Australia. 

AMEC has written to the Minister for Environment, inviting her to speak to industry, and continues to attend public briefings when they occur.

 

Production Tax Credit

The USA’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) has globally shifted investment in downstream processing of critical minerals to the US and away from Australia. The 10% Production Tax Credit (PTC) component of the IRA reduces operating costs in the US for eligible projects. The AMEC Mandala PTC Report quantifies that a 10% Australian PTC will reduce the production cost disadvantage faced by Australian projects.

To be clear, a PTC is not a “silver bullet” or panacea: Australia has long approvals timeframes, land access issues and high construction costs. An Australian PTC would make the cost of doing business, once in production, more competitive. AMEC’s Report is built on analysis of commercial data from 10 producers and developers across Lithium, Nickel, Vanadium and Rare Earths.  If Australia wants to diversify and achieve its aspirations to further downstream critical minerals, a PTC makes Australia competitive. A PTC delivers on the Commonwealth Government commitments and aspirations outlined in the various Critical Minerals Strategy. 

 

DCCEEW

The main focus of Commonwealth environmental reform has been the Nature Positive reforms.  However, there are several other consultations that have been underway. 

Updating Australia’s Strategy for Nature 2019-2030 

The Strategy has been updated to reflect Australia’s contributions to the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework and specifically to protect and conserve 30% of Australia’s land and 30% of Australia’s oceans by 2030.  AMEC raised concerns with Commonwealth-State duplication; potential land use conflict; and the Strategy’s lack of resourcing to deliver any of the sought after outcomes. 

Climate adaptation in Australia – National Adaptation Plan Issues Paper 

A high level Plan that provides a strategic overview of Australia’s proposed paths to adapt to climate change. AMEC highlighted the need for mining and mineral exploration to deliver the desired reduction in carbon.  AMEC raised concerns with the duplication between State and Commonwealth Governments and their agencies within; the lack of consistent data, taxonomy and understanding across regulators and industry.  

Electricity and Energy Sector Plan Discussion Paper 

The Discussion Paper discusses the role of the Australian Government in facilitating the electricity and energy sector in the race to decarbonise.  AMEC highlighted that one of the greatest decarbonisation challenges faced by the mineral exploration industry in Australia is that there is currently no viable commercial alternative to diesel. AMEC also identified that the electricity sector similar to mining and mineral exploration faces challenges with land use conflict, uncommercial timeframes and challenging rising costs.    

Draft National Other Effective area-based Conservation Measures Framework  

The Other Effective area-based Conservation Measures (OECMs) Framework Discussion Paper details how the Commonwealth Government intends for OECMs to be delivered in the Australian context. Industry has several unanswered questions and concerns regarding this new form of conservation management – particularly how it will relate to other preexisting property rights and mineral exploration.   

 

National Water Agreement Consultation  

Water is a critical resource that is integral to the operation of exploration and mining projects. 

DCCEEW is publicly consulting on a new National Water Agreement (NWA) that aims to better reflect climate change, First Nations influence in water resource management, and better water security. They are seeking views on proposed new objectives and outcomes that will form the content of the NWA, and what elements of the 2004 National Water Initiative (NWI) should be included in the new agreement. 

The following consultation documents support the process:

Discussion paper – Seeking views on a future national water agreement 

Insights Paper – Pathway to enduring recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ water interests in national water reform initiatives 

The Discussion paper outlines high-level objectives and related outcomes, but little other information to indicate what the new NWA would look like.  There is limited mapping between the proposed new NWA objectives and any gaps in the NWI which is regarded as largely successful over 20 years. 

In parallel to this consultation, the Productivity Commission is undertaking a National Water Reform 2024 Inquiry and called for public submissions to inform the final report (closed 24 April). This report will be used together with DCCEEWs NWA consultation (closing 3 May), to develop a new Agreement. This will be taken to State Ministers for discussion and agreement without further public consultation. Subsequent Action Plans to deliver the objectives and outcomes will be decided and delivered by the State and Territory Governments, should they choose to sign up to the agreement. 

National Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Consultation 

Mooted reforms to the Aboriginal Torre Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 continue to be developed.  AMEC expects a new Options Paper to be released in the coming quarter.  This Options Paper will reflect progress by the Commonwealth Government and the First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance.