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WA uranium mining approvals

Estimates & Committees
Scott Ludlam 18 Nov 2013

Senator LUDLAM: I presume one of the 48 is the Toro uranium proposal, which was on the minister's desk when the government changed hands. The former minister had made a number of quite extensive and complex requests of Toro. Would you provide us with an update as to whether officers of agencies have met with the company or exactly where that proposal is up to.

Mr Knudson: With respect to Toro's proposal, because it is not a large coal or coal seam gas project it was not subject to the water trigger, so it was not in that package of decisions.

Senator LUDLAM: But it is still on the minister's desk?

Mr Knudson: At this point that project has been approved.

Senator LUDLAM: No, it has not-or it was approved, but the minister would not sign off until quite a large number of conditions had been met, and they had not yet been met.

Mr Knudson: The EPBC principal approval has been provided. However, as you are pointing out, if I understand your question correctly, there are a number of management plans that are required at different stages as that project proceeds, and those are indeed with the department as part of the post-approval process. If you are looking for a specific update on where those are at, then we can walk through that.

Senator LUDLAM: We are very short of time. Would you provide on notice which management plans and how many of those conditions have been met thus far? There were to be no ground-disturbing activities, for example. I am also aware, and perhaps you could fill in whether the minister has been made aware, that the company is proposing to quite radically change the scope of that project and incorporate a number of satellite uranium ore bodies, which would completely change the project configuration. Have you been notified formally of that change of scope?

Dr Bigwood: We are aware of the proposals. Our understanding is that the company is not proposing to change the Wiluna project at this stage. It will incorporate the subsidiary mines within another mining processing plant that it is considering. It is going through the assessment process.

Senator LUDLAM: Another plant?

Dr Bigwood: I think it is what they have called the Millipede and Centipede proposals. Those two ore bodies will be assessed together, and the assessment will be based on a processing plant at the Centipede mine rather than as part of the Wiluna project.

Senator LUDLAM: The company maybe telling markets one thing and regulators another, which is a dangerous situation for it to be in, if that is the case. My understanding is that there is not a second plant afoot and those satellite ore bodies would have primary crushing and then the ore would be moved to the proposed Lake Way plant rather than another one. If that is the case, maybe I could get your advice: would that require a fresh assessment?

Dr Bigwood: It would certainly change the proposal and, therefore, there would need to be an assessment of that part of the proposal.

Senator LUDLAM: If I understood your colleague correctly, the assessment of uranium mines is being delegated to states and you are leaving the door open for approvals of uranium mining to also be conducted by states. If these powers go ahead, what will our environment minister actually do? What would be left for the minister to do? Would we even need one?

Dr de Brouwer: The environment minister has a wide range of responsibilities, Senator.

Senator LUDLAM: He is busy handing them off to the states and territories as we speak.

Dr de Brouwer: It has not happened, and it is a process of negotiation. I can come back with the activities that he does.

Senator LUDLAM: I am interested in the activities that he would have-

CHAIR: Senator Ludlam, let Dr de Brouwer answer.

Senator LUDLAM: What will he do after these processes are all worked through and everything has been handed back to the states?

Dr de Brouwer: It is a power under the act, so it is an entitlement for the minister to do that. It is part of the operation of the act if he wants to go through with bilateral assessments and approvals. That is arranged for and allowed for in the act. Maybe there are other things around the assurance mechanism, but the environment minister has a broad set of responsibilities, Senator, and I am happy to go through what they are.

Senator LUDLAM: Which he is busy dissolving and delegating out to the states. I am aware that these responsibilities exist.

Senator Cormann: In order to cut red and green tape and simplify the process and strengthen our economy moving forward and still maintaining environmental standards at the high level that they have been in the past.

Senator LUDLAM: You cannot have it both ways, Senator Cormann.

Senator Cormann: Yes, you can.

Senator LUDLAM: No, you cannot.

Senator Cormann: Well, that is exactly what we are doing.

Senator LUDLAM: This is a 30-year ark of Commonwealth environmental law being dissolved and handed back to the states. That is how long this has been afoot.

Senator Cormann: Maintaining the standards by making it more efficient so that our economy can grow strongly.

Senator LUDLAM: How do you think these powers ended up with the environment minister at a Commonwealth level in the first place?

Dr de Brouwer: There are other elements under the arrangements that would apply for the minister.

Senator WATERS: Senator Ludlam has passed me the call. I think, perhaps, that last question may have been rhetorical.

Senator LUDLAM: You can take those on notice, Chair.

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