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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.
  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.