Western Australia’s new mining law reforms have progressed with the recent passing of the Mining Legislation Amendment Bill 2013 (Bill) through the State’s Legislative Assembly. The first of three proposed stages of mining reform, this particular Bill contains provisions which are mostly administrative in nature but which nevertheless may be important in terms of cost recovery and public access to information.
The purpose of the bill is to make amendments to the Mining Act 1978 (Mining Act) and the Mining Rehabilitation Fund Act 2012 to facilitate transparency in the Department of Mines and Petroleum (DMP), to restructure the environmental approvals processes and to strengthen compliance.
Under the Mining Act, tenement holders are required to rehabilitate land affected by their mining operations. In certain cases the recently established Mining Rehabilitation Fund (MRF) will supply funding where the original operator cannot be found or is unable to comply with rehabilitation obligations. Currently, the Mining Rehabilitation Fund Act (MRF Act) does not authorize the State Government to recover the costs acquired by the Fund in undertaking rehabilitation work where a responsible person is identified after the rehabilitation has been paid for.
While the DMP may be able to pursue fines under the Mining Act for failure to comply with rehabilitation obligations, it is likely that the maximum financial penalties would be significantly less than the rehabilitation costs paid by the MRF. The Bill proposes amendments to the MRF Act to allow the recovery from the person responsible of all or part of any money paid through the Fund to rehabilitate an abandoned mine site or affected land.
With a view to minimising the potential for mine-site operators to avoid bearing the costs of rehabilitation, no limitation period will apply and in the case of multiple persons responsible, each will be jointly and severally liable.
According to the DMP, fines under the MRF Act may sometimes be unreasonably onerous to tenement holders who fail to comply with their obligations; for example, lower scale offences such as a failure to submit annual disturbance data for the purpose of MRF levy calculation assessment which carries a maximum $20 000 fine.
To encourage compliance, the Bill provides for the MRF regulations be amended to adjust the penalty regime to ensure that penalties are proportionate to the offence.
A key purpose of the Bill is to facilitate environmental data release. Currently, DMP receives approximately 3 000 mining-related proposals each year; only around 1 000 of these are made even partially publicly available—mining proposals, some mine closure plans or as sections of annual environmental reports. In the interests of public transparency, especially where public assets are concerned (addressed in the Minister for Mines and Petroleum's Ministerial Advisory Panel report "Reforming Environmental Regulation in the WA Resources Industry" released in December 2012), the Mining Act will be amended to allow the Director General – at his discretion – to make publicly available approved Programmes of Work, Mining Proposals, Mine Closure Plans (or any updated versions of those plans) and other material submitted to comply with environmental reporting requirements.
The Bill addresses the currently onerous and costly requirement to provide individual notices in the case of joint holders of one tenement, by providing for a single MRF levy assessment or reassessment notice. The bill also contains amendments to simplify environmental approval authorisation processes, and modify the cumbersome requirement to regularly update the mining regulations when position titles change.
It is expected that public consultation for stages two and three, which involve a further streamlining of the approvals process and supporting the implementation of a risk-based framework for environmental regulation, will commence in 2014.
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