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Miners see red over double green tape

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The mining industry is fighting against the doubling of green tape between federal and state governments, saying it has forked out an additional $820 million over 10 years to get federal environmental grants.

Most affected is the coal industry where miners have to go through a three-year approvals process – more than double the rest of the world.

An example was Whitehaven Coal, which last week revealed the consequence of having to wait years to get environmental approval when it said it had to pay $21 million for infrastructure access for coal it had not even produced yet. This was due to the three-year wait to get the final approval for its $767 million Maules Creek project in NSW.

Although Maules Creek got NSW government approval last year and conditional approval from the federal government in February, it then had to fulfil additional environmental criteria before getting the final go-ahead last week.

Whitehaven chairman Mark Vaile said the company had to spend tens of millions of dollars for the approvals process.

“The Maules Creek application went it just before the state election and change of government, and when we applied coal prices were sky high, the market was buoyant and access to capital easier. So the opportunity cost that has been lost is quite significant,” he said.

“The costs have moved away from us in the four-year period we’ve been pursuing it and it’s little wonder people do just walk away from these projects.”

Vaile said the state planning department used to be the chief decision-making group and when an application had to the federal level under the
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, it recognised the work done at the state level.

“We really need to get back to that – there should not be a duplication of assessment processes between the governments.”

Vaile was previously leader of the Nationals and deputy prime minister and he was part of the government that established the EPBC Act. But he
accused it of having duplications, The Australian reported.

“We really need to get back to the way it was designed in the first place, so that both sets of bureaucracy have confidence in the scientific work being done by the other level of government,” he said.

“We will be urging, in the lead-up to the federal election, the Coalition and the government remove the duplication from the process, because it’s putting
us at a disadvantage to other markets across the world.”.

The Association of Mining and Exploration Companies chief executive Simon Bennison said the approvals processes were consistently rising in number and range and were becoming complicated.The mining sector will be take the of state and federal green tape duplication as an issue at the federal election this year.

Minerals Council of Australia chief executive Mitch Hooke said the green tape and project approvals process will hamper Australia’s ability to fulfil resources demand from China and the developing world.

“A study by the Australian National University shows that in the first 10 years of the operation of the commonwealth’s project approval laws under the EPBC Act an extra $820 million had been added to the cost of approvals for no extra environmental protection,” he said.

“There is ongoing demand for Australia’s resources but unless we dramatically improve our approvals system and policy settings more generally, we risk missing the boat.”

Earlier this year, activist Jonathan Moylan issued a fake press release saying ANZ had withdrawn $1.2 billion loan to fund the Whitehaven project.

He was charged for the hoax and said he was ready to go to jail for his cause and said miners should not be allowed to destroy the forest.

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