18/06/2009 - 00:00

New Mines boss stays on message

18/06/2009 - 00:00

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RECENTLY appointed Department of Mines and Petroleum director general Richard Sellers might be new to the job but he's already singing from the same song sheet as his minister, Norman Moore.

RECENTLY appointed Department of Mines and Petroleum director general Richard Sellers might be new to the job but he's already singing from the same song sheet as his minister, Norman Moore.

Mr Sellers said the department's priorities were the approvals process and mine safety, reflecting two issues Mr Moore has been particularly vocal on.

They are both areas the new mines boss is familiar with, having come across from the department's smaller Northern Territory cousin, which he headed.

Furthermore, the NT is a uranium producing province, which gives him experience in a commodity that is viewed by the state government, and Mr Moore, as an important potential addition to Western Australia's minerals sector.

Mr Sellers is confident of his department's ability to improve the approvals process, which was a source of friction between the previous Labor government and the resources sector. The industry believes the state did not act quickly enough to end costly delays at a time when capital was more freely available.

Fixing this was one of the key policy initiatives of the Liberals.

Mr Moore formed a consultative committee soon after the election to look into the approvals process for the resources sector. It has already reported back to him.

Messrs Moore and Sellers are also part of high-level working party chaired by Premier Colin Barnett that is looking into the approvals process across government, including environmental approvals and planning approvals outside the resources domain.

Mr Sellers said he inherited problems such as backlogs in applications and slow lead times for approvals in the NT after shifting across to its resources department from the fisheries bureaucracy, the field he worked in a decade ago when he left WA for the top end.

"When I took over NT (minerals and energy) we were suffering similar issues," he said.

"We needed to work on the same things as here, we had to get more efficient."

Acknowledging that some of the necessary work has already been started in WA, Mr Sellers said it took about 18 months to turn around the problem in the NT, a much smaller minerals province than here.

"Then we started getting accolades from the mining community," he said.

"It was pleasurable for them to come and tell us the problems they had in WA."

Mr Sellers said an example of the changes taking place was the phasing in of online approvals application tracking from petroleum to minerals.

On the safety side of the equation, Mr Sellers said the department was looking to use recent experience from the oil industry to change practices in mining, which had failed to stop deaths.

The oil industry operates a methodology that involves safety cases, which provides a record not just of a workplace's procedures but also the depth of its understanding of the processes required to avoid death or injury.

Mr Sellers said the department's longer-term goal was to reduce the severity of the impact of the current global financial crisis and better prepare WA for a return to stronger conditions.

"Obviously with the economic crisis and the way the resources industry has slowed down for a fair majority of the commodities, there are two opportunities to start," he said.

"(We are) trying to make sure the bottom of that is not as slow as it could be.

"The longer term is making sure we come out of the current slowdown with the best options available to us in the future,"

One example of that was investing in exploration support, which provided more pre-competitive geoscience data for geologists and explorers.

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