Explorer #1

March, 2024

WARREN PEARCE – CEO, AMEC

AMEC Partners

This article in the Australian Financial Review is testament to the ongoing support AMEC receives from all members, councillors and our hardworking team. Thank you as we continue to achieve great results together.

Nickel

On 16 February 2024, the Commonwealth Government announced they would add nickel to the critical minerals list. This is a welcomed measure from industry and something AMEC has been calling on for some time. Having nickel added opens access to funding opportunities for companies via the Critical Minerals Facility, created to finance Australian critical minerals mining and processing projects.

Nature Positive Reforms

The latest phase of industry consultation occurred on 22 February. AMEC travelled to Canberra and met with DCCEEW. The following documents were available for viewing:

  • Draft legislation on the core elements of the new laws, likely to include regional planning, assessment accreditation, protected matters, the Ministerial call-in power and definitions for December and February exposure drafts.
  • Draft policy papers, likely to include compliance and enforcement, restoration actions and contributions, objects/principles of the new Act, statutory committees, wildlife trade and sustainable fisheries, protected matters, threat abatement, conservation planning and National Parks.
  • Updated draft policy papers to inform National Environmental Standards:
    • Matters of National Environmental Significance
    • Restoration Actions and Restoration Contributions
    • Regional Planning
    • Data and Information
    • Community Engagement and Consultation

AMEC has formed a National Working Group to collate our response to the Nature Positive reform and supply feedback.

Pilbara BioRegion

The Commonwealth Government is consulting on a Pilbara Bioregion: EPBC Act Policy Statement. This discusses the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water expectations and avoidance requirements for referral and assessment of proposed projects in the Pilbara bioregion. AMEC formed a subcommittee of members to compose a detailed submission, as well as writing to Minister Plibersek. A key concern is that the timing of the release overlaps with the DCCEEW Nature Positive Reform process.  The document has generated a number of questions as there appears to be application of ideas under discussion in the Nature Positive reforms that are yet to be legislated and provides an interpretation of how they could be implemented.

Climate Related Financial Disclosures

The Commonwealth Treasury has consulted on Exposure Draft legislation that amends the Australian Securities and Investment Commission Act 2001 and the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) to introduce mandatory requirements for large businesses and financial institutions to disclose their climate-related risks and opportunities. This is the final step before introducing this legislation to parliament.

The proposed reforms relate to large entities that are required to prepare and lodge annual reports under Chapter 2M of the Corporations Act, requiring them to disclose information about climate-related risks and opportunities. However, where entities are subject to both the annual reporting requirements under the Corporations Act and emissions reporting obligations under the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Act 2007 (Cth) (NGER Act), they will be required to disclose regardless of size.

AMEC has provided a submission to the Government detailing concerns with the proposed framework.

National Water Agreement

The Commonwealth Government has reignited the National Water Initiative, now as a National Water Agreement, with a consultation of State. AMEC has ensured the voice of industry is heard through Stakeholder reference groups in WA, Northern Territory and Queensland and by attending workshops and providing submissions. The Productivity Commission has coincidentally undertaken a consultation on the effectiveness of the NWI.

Mining, Prospecting Quarrying Rights

Commonwealth Treasury recently concluded consultation on the exposure draft amendments to the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997, outlining the tax treatment of ‘exploration’ and MPQRs. The amendments will ensure the income tax legislation operates according to the Australian Tax Office’s interpretation of the Full Federal Court’s decision in Commissioner of Taxation v Shell Energy Holdings Australia Limited (Shell Decision).

AMEC continues to voice concerns with the ATO’s interpretation of the Shell Decision, considering the interpretation too narrow. As the interpretation of the ordinary meaning of ‘exploration’ is so central to its application under the Income Tax Act and PRRT Act, this decision will guide income tax and broader Petroleum Resource Rent Tax outcomes.

Nickel 

Following a snap roundtable of industry and Government called by Hon Madeleine King, Commonwealth Resources Minister, and Hon David Michael MLA, WA Mines Minister on 25 January, AMEC has been liaising closely with both Governments to find appropriate support for the Western Australian nickel industry. 

The WA Government has provided 50 per cent royalty relief over 18 months; and as called for by AMEC for over a year, nickel has now been elevated onto the critical minerals list. 

AMEC is conscious that nickel isn’t the sole commodity facing supressed prices and global headwinds. AMEC has reached out to the CME and WA Government to collaborate on a proposal for a process for distressed companies to discuss financial support. 

Standard No Mining Conditions 

The Department of Energy, Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety consulted recently on the creation of Standard No Mining Conditions. The Government’s response to the Blue Ribbon Supreme Court decision that found the existing practice of Minutes of Programming Directions were unlawful, but conditions could be used instead. AMEC has provided a submission and held a workshop with members to discuss.  While AMEC is not opposed to the wording, the primary concerns are that the use of no-mining conditions will not actually treat the central problem providing certainty to linear infrastructure owners (railways, pipelines etc) that their infrastructure will be unaffected by mineral exploration.  This central problem is generating objections in the Wardens court and slowing access to land. AMEC continues to propose that a legislative solution that facilitates excision on Exploration Licences is the best possible outcome. 

New Director General of Department of Water, Environmental Regulation. 

Alistair Jones began in January as the new Director General of the Department of Water, Environment and Regulation. Michelle Andrews has stepped away from the role and into well-earned retirement. Alistair sat down with 25 members from AMEC’s Environment and Water Advisory Committee on Friday 16 February to discuss their concerns and priorities for reform.

Vogel McFerran Review 

In December 2023, former WA Environmental Protection Authority chair Paul Vogel AM and planning expert David McFerran delivered an independent review of Part IV environmental approvals. AMEC is supportive of the 39 recommendations, and the urgency attached to their delivery with most demanding outcomes by April 2024. AMEC surveyed Environmental consultant members and identified the following as the top six: 

  1. Recommendation 27: (8 Votes) 
    • Amend s 41(3) of the EP Act to allow other decision-making Authorities to issue their own approvals in parallel with the EPA’s assessment and Ministerial decision making, while still preventing proposal implementation.  
    • In the short term, Streamline WA to develop clear guidance for all approvals agencies regarding the application of s 41(3) of the EP Act in relation to progressing assessment for secondary approvals. Legal advice should be sought about which secondary approvals are captured, e.g. granting of mine tenure.
  1.  
  2. Recommendation 15: DWER and Office of the EPA to: (6 Votes) 
    • Develop a triaged, prioritised and case management approach to reduce the backlog of assessments and the growing number of post-approval matters to manageable levels. 
    • Use external skills/experience where appropriate to expedite assessments supported through use of existing fee for service funds.  
    • Evaluate the use of Deemed approvals for EMPs.

  3. Recommendation 8: DWER and Office of the EPA to: (6 Votes) 
    • Prioritise and accelerate the re-structure of DWER in relation to assessment and approvals and ensure it is adequately resourced. 
    • Create a centralised referral management and coordination unit in the Office of the EPA as part of the restructure to provide better oversight of referrals and improve timeframes.

  4. Recommendation 3: DWER and Office of EPA to: (5 Votes) 
    • Expand on existing training programs for existing and new staff on an ongoing and mandatory basis, that builds understanding and skill in EIA as well as risk-based decision making in the face of uncertainty, working across Government and adoption of a service culture.  
    • Establish a mentoring program to support new and inexperienced assessment personnel with experienced officers.

  5. Recommendation 5: (5 Votes) 
    • DWER and Streamline WA to bolster Regulatory Performance Report requirements of overall Part IV assessment timeframes to encourage an accountable culture and incentivise team members to ‘case manage’ referrals.
       
  6. Recommendation 6: (5 Votes) 
    • DWER to develop an Office of the EPA organisational culture centred on environmental assessment facilitation, integrated with the ongoing training. This will enable a shift of the culture of the Office of the EPA from one of risk aversion and a lack of accountability, to one of a highly engaged, accountable and service-orientated unit facilitating sustainable development. 

Conservation Management Plans 

Following a meeting with Members with the Director General of the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, Stuart Smith, AMEC has secured a commitment to work with the Environmental Consultant’s Association on improving guidance for Conservation Management Plans. The guidance for CMPs was pulled from the DBCA website in 2014, and AMEC and the ECA are prepared to work with DBCA to draft new guidance to streamline the process of accessing the conservation estate. Currently industry faces unreasonably long timeframes to access conservation estate lands, in part due to the absence of guidance.

Eligible Mining Activities 

A priority for AMEC this year is the delivery of the Government’s committed Eligible Mining Activities. A long term advocacy objective of AMEC, who has campaigned consistently for over 15 years for a notification system for a standardised conditioned approval for lower risk activities in non-environmentally sensitive areas. This will cut administrative burden and timeframes for both Government and companies. It will also allow improved regulatory focus on higher risk activities and ensure Western Australia maintains its high environmental standards. 

Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Costs 

Across January 2024, AMEC has heard consistently from industry of rising costs of land access across Western Australia from undertaking Aboriginal Cultural Heritage surveys. AMEC continues to work with the Department of Premier and Cabinet to seek solutions. 

Work Health and Safety Legislation 

Statutory Appointment Examination 

The statutory appointment (s26) examination availability remains an issue for both Government and industry. AMEC has raised the issue again with Minister Michael and expressed concern that if no changes are made the industry will not reach the 31 March 2025 deadline.

Mine Safety Management System (MSMS) Transition 

The transition date for the Mine Safety Management System is fast approaching on 31 March 2024. AMEC has asked the Minister for an extension to the MSMS transition date, after indication from industry that some companies may not be ready to roll over to the new system.  

AMEC members Parabellum International was chosen to develop a WHS MSMS Audit Tool as part of Round 3 of our WHS Peak Body Grant program. This is set to be released in Q1 of 2024.

New AMEC South Australia Manager – Peta Abbot 

Peta Abbot commenced as SA Manager on 12 February 2023 and will operate from a member company office in Adelaide (TBA). Peta has extensive experience working with explorers and miners in various roles across South Australian government including as a geologist, commodity and value-chain specialist, economic analyst and strategic project leader. Peta has post grad qualifications in education and mineral and energy economics and recently worked in principal roles for hydrogen industry development and renewable energy policy. Peta is looking forward to catalysing policies and supporting members to develop a successful and sustainable mining and exploration industry and provide broader benefits for stakeholders, particularly in her home state of South Australia. 

SA Mining Act and Regulations 

18-Year relinquishment of tenure and Part 9B  

Despite securing a commitment that consultation can commence on the reforms AMEC advocated for to South Australia’s Mining Act, including the 18-year relinquishment of tenure, and our ongoing recommendation shift for Part 9B to Right to Negotiate, we are awaiting a timeframe for this consultation. AMEC are meeting with Minister Koutsantonis on 21 March to further discuss.

Scoping workshop 

AMEC facilitated a workshop on 22 November with Department for Energy and Mining (DEM) to explain project management tools released late last year that have been developed to support the recently introduced Scoping process. AMEC will continue to work with DEM and members, to clarify matters related to Scoping which applies to the early stages of the approvals process for proposed mining operations. 

Hydrogen and Renewable Energy Act 

The Hydrogen and Renewable Energy Act 2023 has been assented but is not yet in operation.

DEM released the Hydrogen and Renewable Energy Act 2023 Regulations pre-consultation materials in late 2023.  

AMEC has provided a submission outlining the following advocacy points:  

  • Maintaining resourcing within DEM for BaU mining and exploration applications/approvals
  • Competitive land access – MLUF 
  • Economic loss and material diminishment related to mining  

Draft regulations will be released for public consultation in early 2024 and AMEC will lodge submissions as the opportunity arises. 

Ground Water Monitoring Guidelines 

The EPA has prepared a draft guideline for establishing baseline groundwater quality as part of a series of six Guidelines for groundwater quality monitoring of regulated activities.  

AMEC and interested members will meet with the EPA to better understand the issues related to changes in collecting groundwater baseline data and how that may impact mining and exploration activities. 

AMEC will subsequently provide a submission in March 2024 to the EPA on Guideline 3 – Establishing baseline groundwater quality. 

South Australia Biodiversity Act 

Department for Environment and Water (DEW) has released a discussion paper to create a new Biodiversity Act for South Australia. The paper indicates that current laws do not adequately address the challenges of biodiversity loss, particularly in a changing climate and that a new Act could be seen as the state’s key piece of environmental legislation. The new Act could require actions such as development projects to consider ways to avoid or minimise harm and could seek to prioritise avoidance and minimisation of impacts.

AMEC will work with members to capture feedback for a submission, due 1 March 2024. 

Changes to Annual Report Release Policy (Sunset Clause)  

AMEC has provided a submission for the public consultation on the Annual report release policy (previously known as ‘sunset clause’) to clarify when making data and reports from current live tenure public. The key changes proposed include the release of exploration reports for ‘flow on’ mining tenure, release of baseline coal geological data (but not the reports) and release of annual reports for Group 8 (geothermal), Group 11 (uranium) and Group 12 (hydrogen and non-metals). AMEC continues to liaise with the Department.

NSW Critical Minerals and High-Tech Metals Strategy 

AMEC has been calling on the NSW Government to deliver a clear strategy for delivering on the State’s critical minerals potential. In 2023, AMEC made a submission and met with the NSW Government to ensure the new NSW Critical Minerals Strategy enhanced mineral exploration and supported the development of assets

Under the finalised Strategy the NSW Government published on 29 November 2023, the Strategy will: 

  • Establish Australia’s first Critical Minerals Hub in the Central West 
  • Promote exploration for critical minerals resources 
  • Activate the industry through proactive development of supply chains 
  • Attract investment for critical minerals resources, downstream processing and recycling 

Co-existence and Competing Land Use in NSW  

AMEC has recently written to the Minister to follow-up on our recent submission on competing land use. Ensuring mineral exploration has a viable and cost-effective manner to access land in NSW. AMEC has been calling for a multiple land use framework in NSW. Such a framework will enable government, community and industry to effectively and efficiently meet land access and use challenges, expectations and opportunities by clearly delineating a framework and principles for shared use.

Rehabilitation Security Deposits Advocacy 

Following recent discussions with members at our NSW Advisory Committee meeting, AMEC has initiated and drafted a submission to NSW Minister and Government with recommendations to improve the rehabilitation security deposit and bonding framework in NSW. Nationally, several jurisdictions including WA and the NT have embraced differing financial assurance methodologies that both meet the need for environmental outcomes but create a lower administrative and cost burden for Government and industry alike.

‘Current and potential impacts of gold, silver, lead and zinc mining on human health, land, air and water quality in New South Wales’ 

The report on the recent NSW Parliamentary Inquiry titled ‘Current and potential impacts of gold, silver, lead and zinc mining on human health, land, air and water quality in New South Wales’ chaired by Dr Cohn MLC was released in December 2023. The NSW Government is anticipated to release a position on the report before Easter. AMEC presented to the Inquiry and provided a submission.

Mineral Royalty Reform

The Northern Territory Government has begun 2024 on the front foot, with two rounds of consultations on the changing mineral royalty scheme.

AMEC has been campaigning for a change in the mineral royalty system in the Northern Territory (NT) for the last seven years and finally the NT Government is set to introduce a new tiered ad valorem system. There will be four tiers based on the level of processing of the mineral.

  • Category 1: 7.5% (crushing, screening, blending and product handling)
  • Category 2: 5% (gravity separation or flotation)
  • Category 3: 3.5% (metallurgical treatment stages can require high temperatures and pressure treatment with a variety of chemical and energy inputs)
  • Category 4: 2% (final treatment, refining or other advanced metallurgical processing          

This is both a big win from an advocacy standpoint, as well as for the mining and mineral exploration industry and NT economy. Replacing the complicated profit-based royalty system with one better understood by industry and investors should provide further interest in exciting projects in the Territory. As well as incentives for new companies to choose the Territory as a place to explore.

Environmental Legislation

With the passing of the Environment Protection Legislation Amendment Act 2023 in November last year, implementation is well underway. The new mining laws will commence on 1 July 2024 and apply to all mining activities including exploration and extraction.

AMEC has successfully advocated for an Eligible Mining Activities (EMA) style approach to the lowest tier of licencing being introduced in the NT. AMEC has advocated for over 15 years in Western Australia for this concept, so to see it being implemented in the Territory is good to see.

The proposed risk criteria which is derived from the EMA model is:

  • Nature of activities – limiting certain types of activities
  • Scale of activities – limiting the size of disturbance
  • Location – excluding environmentally sensitive areas

Currently, the Department of Environment, Parks, and Water Security (DEPWS) has set the scale of activity at 10ha of disturbance. This is massive for the exploration industry as it should cover up 80% of all environmental licensing under the new reforms.

AMEC will be meeting regularly with DEPWS and DITT to discuss the risk criteria and standard conditions alongside the implementation of environmental legislative reform.

Land Access and Coexistence: Real Progress or False Dawn? 

The Government is proposing major changes to institutional arrangements for managing land access and coexistence in Queensland.  

The first change will be to replace the GasFields Commission Queensland, with Coexistence Queensland. The new organisation will focus on providing education and information to stakeholders on matters related to coexistence and land access across the petroleum, mining and renewable energy sectors.

The second change is to expand the functions of the Land Access Ombudsman by providing access to an alternative dispute resolution process. 

The Government proposes to fully fund Coexistence Queensland; however, an industry-wide levy on tenure holders is being proposed to fund the day-to-day operations of the LAQ and fee-for-service arrangements will be in place for specific dispute resolution functions (these fees will be payable by the tenure holder). 

AMEC has been largely supportive of these new institutional arrangements, as they provide new avenues for achieving outcomes long sought by our members, namely: preventing the escalation of land access disputes to the Land Court; facilitating more efficient land access negotiations; and achieving conduct and compensation agreements that are fair to both landholders and explorers. 

Our advocacy will now focus on the detail of how these new institutions will operate, including their work program priorities and how they will monitor whether these changes are having a positive impact on land access negotiations for both explorers and landholders. 

Water Reviews and Assessments

The Queensland Government has announced that it is undertaking a series of reviews and assessments on Queensland’s water arrangements. 

Already in train are Regional Water Risk (RWA) Assessments for the Central Queensland and Burdekin regions. Each RWA will undertake a comprehensive analysis of local water needs and identify gaps to be filled, as well as identify projects that offer the best potential to achieve economic development through further investment in water. Once complete, the assessments will set out how existing infrastructure, new infrastructure and non-infrastructure solutions can be used to maximise water supply and drive economic growth.

Later in the year, the Government will commence a review of the Gulf Water Plan. This review is being initiated because the current water plan does not properly account for growth in demand for water, including demand from the critical minerals sector.  

The wheels of government will be working slowly on these reviews: they generally take a few years to complete, and as a member of the Stakeholder Advisory Group(s!) for each review, AMEC will be advocating for members throughout the process.

Please find links to maps for member use: 

Burdekin assesment map

CQ assessment area map

Gulf area plan map

2024 Australian Mine Waste Symposium 

In February, the University of Queensland Sustainable Minerals Institute brought together Australian and international experts to talk about mine waste, including how to turn what was once a waste product into a resource and reduce the environmental footprint at the same time.

Several AMEC members presented or spoke at this conference and these videos are just some examples of the innovative and important work that is being done to make the most of our resources and reduce the environmental liability of the minerals sector:

EQ Resources – What waste? Every rock has value (even those without tungsten) 

Heritage Minerals – Transforming the Mt Morgan liability into an opportunity 

Cobalt Blue – Turning an “unloved problem child” (pyrite) into something valuable 

VICTORIA

New CEO at Resources Victoria

The Victorian Government has appointed Matt Vincent as Chief Executive Officer for Resources Victoria. Matt was previously with the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.

Rehabilitation Work Near Bendigo

Earth Resources Regulation (ERR) is overseeing the rehabilitation of two former mining sites near Bendigo as the then licensee was unable to meet its obligations.  This includes the removal of drill core samples from the Woodvale Evaporation Ponds and the start of rehabilitation work at Kangaroo Flat. The Geological Survey of Victoria (GSV) has catalogued more than 2,000 drill holes and almost 1,700 pallets of drill core at Woodvale before transferring it to the Drill Core Library in Werribee for further evaluation and storage. At the Kangaroo Flat site, a range of work continues with the Swan Decline now permanently sealed, having once been the primary gateway to Bendigo’s historical underground mining.

 

TASMANIA

New Aboriginal Heritage Legislation for Tasmania

Minister Roger Jaensch, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, has announced that the Aboriginal cultural heritage legislation would be updated by repealing the 1975 Act and replacing it with a new Act.

Avebury Placed in Care and Maintenance

The Avebury Nickel Mine, located on Tasmania’s west coast will transition into care and maintenance following the 50% decline in global nickel prices since last year.

State Election

On 14 February, the Tasmanian Premier, Jeremy Rockliff, announced a general election for Saturday 23 March 2024.

AMEC submissions for the Commonwealth on behalf of member companies:

To learn more please contact Neil van Drunen on 0407 057 443.

To learn more please contact Neil van Drunen on 0407 057 443.

AMEC submission for South Australia on behalf of member companies:

 

To learn more please contact Peta Abbot on 0475 834 554.

To learn more please contact Neil van Drunen on 0407 057 443.

AMEC submission for Northern Territory on behalf of member companies:

To learn more please contact Neil van Drunen on 0407 057 443.

AMEC submissions for Queensland on behalf of member companies:

To learn more please contact Kirsten Pietzner on 0455 743 329.

AMEC submission for Victoria and Tasmania on behalf of member companies:

 

To learn more contact Stuart Glazebrook on
0402 216 835

Member to Member - LIMITED OFFERS

Member in Focus

Congratulations to member company Azure Minerals Limited for taking out the highly coveted Craig Oliver Award at this years RIU Explorers Conference.

The award is in honour of mining executive Craig Oliver, who died in a plane crash in 2010. It celebrates a significant development in the exploration sector and was awarded to Azure for the Andover Lithium + Nickel-Copper-Cobalt Project.

Managing Director Tony Rovira and his team were originally exploring Mexico but a pivot back to Western Australia and a new vision to focus on lithium in the West Pilbara region paid dividends.

Mr Rovira commented that “For a company to be successful, you need a vision.” That vision led to the discovery of significant lithium mineralisation after surface sampling returned high grade lithium assays between 1% to 5% Li2O.

On behalf of everyone at AMEC – Congratulations and well done to the entire Azure team on this outstanding achievement.

Upcoming AMEC Events

WA Breaking Ground 14 March

WA Networking Sundowner 21 March

QLD Networking Event 23 April

Take a look at the full list of Upcoming AMEC events

AMEC In Attendance

MiningNews Select Sydney 2024 18-19 March

Future Facing Commodities 2024 26-28 March, Singapore

NT Ages Sundowner 16 April, Alice Springs

Paydirt’s 2024 Battery Minerals Conference 16-17 April, Perth

With growing popularity AMEC events have become a great way to promote your company through sponsorship. Last year we had a record number of events and attendees. This year s already of to a flying start, make sure you put your company in front of our valued members. View sponsorship options

New Full Members

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