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Resource sector welcomes report on mining approvals

THE WA Chamber of Minerals and Energy has welcomed the findings of a report by the Auditor General into the administration of the mineral titles system, but believes the report should have taken a wider approach on the bureaucratic hold-ups facing miners.

Chamber director Greg Johannes said Auditor General Des Pearson’s criticism of the Department of Mineral and Petroleum Resources was not completely warranted, however.

“We have got a pretty good relationship with the department and we are very supportive of them. It’s not a love-love relationship. There is some tension there, but they have got strong expertise,” Mr Johannes said.

He said the Federal Native Title Act, the lack of resources within the department and the inability of the parliamentary process to deal with amendments to the Mining Act, which have been on the table since 1996, were having a far more destructive impact on the mining application process.

The report shared the chamber’s concern with the backlog of 23 proposed amendments to the Mining Act.

The chamber believes the Warden’s Court also was having a negative impact, as it was starting to delve into environmental and Native Title issues considered beyond its original scope.

Mr Johannes said the role of the court needed to be more clearly defined, with its jurisdiction restricted to administering the Mining Act.

Minister for State Development Clive Brown also welcomed the report, as it presented an opportunity to ensure that the State’s title system continued to be regarded as a global benchmark.

As part of his findings, Mr Pearson said the Department of Mineral and Petroleum Resources had struggled to address a range of problems, which was costing the WA Government millions in lost revenue and causing unnecessary delays to the private sector.

The report, Level Pegging: Management of Mineral Titles in Western Australia, found that the application process can take as long as 22 months to be cleared under the Mining Act before being delayed further by the Native Title process.

Applications cleared under the Mining Act – but yet to be referred by DMPR for approval under the Native Title Act – represent more than $4 million in lost rental revenue.

The report also indicates that explorers and miners often fail to comply with conditions stipulated in the Mining Act and are not being held to account by the department.

Only 11 per cent of titleholders provide DMPR with information sufficient to indicate the minimum amount of required expenditure was spent on exploration or mining activity each year.

The audit sample indicates that 55 per cent of titleholders either fail to report annual expenditure or report expenditure less than the minimum required. A further 34 per cent report compliance with the expenditure conditions but are not providing sufficient information to support their claim.

Mr Pearson said non-compliance with the conditions should result in forfeiture of title, either through private action in the Mining Warden’s Court or through DMPR forfeiture proceedings.

“The Department of Mineral and Petroleum Resources has obviously fallen short in fulfilling its obligations under the Mining Act 1978,” he said.

Mr Brown said an action plan was being developed to address the findings and implement the report’s recommendations.

“The majority of the findings can be addressed by implementing changes to work practices and developing clear and transparent guidelines for use by industry setting out how the Act will be administered,” he said.

As of December last year, the department administered more than 16,600 granted titles and 11,300 title applications.

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