By Reg Howard-Smith, chief executive of the Chamber of Minerals and Energy of WA
Despite volatile commodity prices impacting the minerals and energy sector in 2015, there have been plenty of highlights for us at the Chamber of Minerals and Energy (CME) as we guide our industry through this downturn in the commodities cycle and look ahead to more positive economic times.
In a year which saw the appointment of a new Prime Minister in Malcolm Turnbull, we paid tribute to the hard work of former Minister for Industry and Science, Ian Macfarlane and welcomed a new ministerial appointment in the promotion of Josh Frydenberg to Minister for Resources, Energy and Northern Australia.
We were honoured to host Minister Frydenberg last month as he toured the State, visiting many key operational sites run by our member companies.
The time and commitment spent by Minister Frydenberg in our great state is an encouraging sign for our sector. We were reassured by the time and commitment the Minister showed to Western Australia and are looking forward to a cooperative and collaborative relationship with him in 2016.
In October, WA Premier and Science Minister Colin Barnett launched the Western Australia Biodiversity and Science Institute (WABSI). The formation of this institute will position the State with the science capability and knowledge needed to effectively and efficiently process future development approvals. CME and resource sector companies have played a key role in the establishment of WABSI.
Both the state and federal governments have shaken up their environmental approval processes this year as they streamline their systems.
The Commonwealth implemented a ‘one-stop-shop’ policy for environmental approvals which was aimed at cutting bureaucratic red tape for resource companies. Under the reform, we will see the introduction of a single assessment and approval process conducted by the state government for nationally protected species and areas. But it can only be fully achieved through amendments to federal environmental laws which are still outstanding.
On a state government level, major amendments to the Mining Act 1978 which were tabled in Parliament this year, have seen a positive step in the removal of unnecessary red tape.
The creation of a new ‘low-impact’ notification process should see a significant reduction in the need for many Programme of Works applications in the future. The introduction of a separate part within the Act on environmental management will also remove the need for a clearing permit separate to an environmental approval, a move which is welcomed by CME and its members.
Despite strong opposition from the mining sector, the Department of Mines and Petroleum earlier this year announced its intention to introduce fees for the assessment of environmental approvals.
Due to the hard work by CME staff, we successfully advocated on behalf of our members for the State Government to move away from these plans until after the passage of amendments to the Mining Act. The department is now considering other funding options to recover costs.
As we plan for the year ahead, CME will be closely watching and examining the issues and legislation that impact our members.
Aboriginal Affairs in Western Australia is currently in a state of flux with amendments to the Aboriginal Heritage legislation tabled before Parliament but not debated.
While we recently welcomed the introduction of the Biodiversity Conservation Bill 2015 to Parliament, a 2013 election commitment of the Barnett Government, there is a need consider the content carefully to ensure it delivers on minimising duplication and red tape in project development approvals, while protecting the State’s biodiversity conservation.
CME had a strong focus on mental health and employee welfare during 2015, with the release of our Mental Health Blueprint, which provided a framework for promoting wellbeing of the workforce as well as reducing the risks and impacts of mental illness.
Welfare and work/life balance will remain important issues for CME in 2016 as we fight to ensure workers in the resources sector have a choice in the way they structure their life and work arrangements.
CME believes choice is the key to ensuring happy and balanced workplaces for resources workers who want to make the best decisions for them and their family.