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Australia – Queensland Government Announces End To Prohibition On Uranium Mining.

29 October, 2012

 

Legal News & Analysis – Asia Pacific – Australia – Energy & Project Finance

 

In brief

 

  • Last week the Queensland Premier and the Queensland Mines Minister announced the end to the long-running prohibition on uranium mining in Queensland.
  • A three-member implementation committee is to be formed by the Government to oversee the recommencement of uranium mining.
  • But there will necessarily be plenty of other issues for prospective uranium miners, investors and purchasers to look into before they get too excited about the announcement.

 

What will the Government have to do?

 

The Queensland Government won’t necessarily have to do anything.

 

Given the ban was only implemented as a non-statutory measure – it was a policy decision taken by a series of governments not to grant any mining lease applications in Queensland which sought rights to mine uranium – there is really nothing the Government must do.

 

For example, it’s not obliged to support the announcement with the passage of legislation through Parliament, though it may choose to do so.

 

What’s the Government likely to do and when?

 

That said, it is likely that there will be policy and administrative actions that the Government will take to transition from prohibition to mining.

 

Central to that will be the announced “implementation committee”.

 

However, while last week’s unexpected announcement has probably triggered activity within government (and industry), there’s nothing available yet on the role, function and membership of the three-member implementation committee.

 

And on the basis that the announcement mentions that the committee will only have three months to report, we don’t anticipate its role will be very extensive, particularly if it has to report early in the new year.

 

We can only speculate that it will more than likely deal with recommendations around environmental and safety issues given these are the two themes which are always central to regulation of uranium mining, processing and transportation in any jurisdiction.

 

For example, it may be that the committee recommends that a model environmental authority be prepared by the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Projection for any mining leases granted for uranium.

 

While we don’t see legislative change as necessary, the Government may of course choose that option for any one of a number of reasons and for any number of existing statutes. We could well expect to see changes to mining safety legislation. While the Mining and Quarrying Safety and Health Act 1999 (Qld) theoretically captures uranium mining, the Government may see sense in amending it to cover uranium-specific obligations.

 

Beyond that there is no way of pre-empting the committee’s findings at this early stage. While anything is possible, we think it unlikely that there would be any appetite for uranium to be lifted significantly out of the “mainstream” Queensland mining and related approvals processes.

 

The bigger picture

 

Of course, it shouldn’t be overlooked that the regulation of uranium mining in Australia is by no means the sole domain of the State and Territory Governments.

 

Indeed, the Federal Government’s involvement in the regulation of uranium mining in Australia is probably greater than in any other type of mining.

 

Not only does the Federal Government’s close involvement cover the mining and processing of the ore but, to an even greater degree, it focuses its attention very keenly on marketing and shipment too.

 

While in recent years federal governments of either side of politics have not had the reticence of some of their state counterparts towards uranium mining, that’s not to say that they take their regulatory role lightly and the lifting of the ban in Queensland should be seen really as removing a preliminary – though important – process obstacle rather than an opportunity for sweeping reform of the regulation of uranium mining in Queensland, whatever the recommendations of the implementation committee and the Queensland Government’s response to those recommendations.

 

The even bigger picture

 

It’s also important to acknowledge the leverage the Premier’s announcement took from the Prime Minister’s recent Indian tour promoting Australian-produced uranium.

 

While the opening up of uranium mining in Queensland coupled with the potential opening up of new markets for the mined uranium is as attractive to a State Government as it is to industry, prospective uranium miners in Queensland will only make important investment decisions once their export opportunities are sufficiently clear at their intended destinations.

 

For Indian purchasers and purchasers from some other countries, that will likely mean waiting for other key pieces to fall into place at the international level including the successful negotiation of bilateral agreements between the Australian Government and the governments of the receiving country. And all that will likely take some time.

 

“While the opening up of uranium mining in Queensland coupled with the potential opening up of new markets for the mined uranium is as attractive to a State Government as it is to industry, important investment decisions will only be made once export opportunities are sufficiently clear.” 

  

For further information, please contact:

 

John Briggs, Partner, Ashurst

john.briggs@ashurst.com

 

Ashurst Energy & Project Finance Practice Profile in Australia

 

Homegrown Energy & Project Finance Law Firms in Australia

 

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