Hail Victoria: The new five-year state plan for mining

Australian Mining looks over the latest mineral resources strategy from the Victorian Government, which aims for a spend of $220 million over the next five years.

On August 28 2018, the Victorian Government released its mineral resources strategy for 2018–2023, identifying key challenges and opportunities in the state’s mining sector.

The government report, entitled State of Discovery: Mineral Resources Strategy 2018–2023, lays out five key action areas that explore different segments of Victoria’s minerals sector. The Victorian Government is aiming to spend $220 million in exploration investment by June 2023 to help meet these goals.

While not the largest Australian mining state, Victoria is home to several large mining companies, including BHP, Newcrest and OceanaGold, with Melbourne-based firms accounting for 65 per cent of mining stock from the ASX100 in 2018 ($188 billion in all).

Meanwhile, major mines such as Fosterville (Victoria’s largest gold mine), owned by Canadian-Australian miner Kirkland Lake, have posted record results recently, with production at said mine up 21 per cent to June 2018.

In addition, mineral spend is increasing significantly in Victoria, up 79 per cent year on year (YoY) in March 2018 compared with 27 per cent nationally according to figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The minerals industry in Victoria also employs around 121,000 people and made a total direct and indirect contribution of $13.6 billion in 2015–16 for the state coffers (around four per cent of gross state product).

State of Discovery: Mineral Resources Strategy 2018–2023 is championing ambitious growth for Victoria’s minerals sector. Megan Davison executive director of the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA), posted a warm response to the report, stating that, “Victoria is blessed with a diverse commodity base including operating gold, antimony and brown coal mines, world-class mineral sands deposits and highly prospective precious and base metals provinces.”

The Victorian Government cites Victoria’s “intensively developed” landscape as a potential challenge for exploration expansion in the report, and as such has emphasised responsible minerals exploration as a key point of its strategic overview.

To advance geoscience and encourage mineral exploration and development to Victoria, the Government plans to release a Victorian resource prospectus that integrates resource and freight transport planning. It also plans to conduct competitive tenders to attract “high-performing” explorers.

The meat of the report lies in its five key action areas, however; key points to be addressed over the next five years.

The five action areas include (in order) Confident Communities and Responsible Explorers; Advancing Geoscience and Encouraging Mineral Exploration and Development; Victoria as a Global Mining Hub; Improve Regulatory Practice and Industry Compliance; and Deliver Modern, Fit-For-Purpose Laws.

The report’s introductory strategic overview states that “gaining and maintaining community confidence in the social, environmental, and economic performance of mineral exploration and development [is] critical for the sector” and the first of the five key action points builds on this.

Confident Communities and Responsible Explorers relates to improving community acceptance of the mineral resources industry through better understanding of the attitudes of Victoria’s community towards the sector and improved support of landholders in their negotiations with the industry. 

The State Government hopes to build this trust by improving transparency and social responsibility standards for explorers, while also securing enduring benefits for host communities.

In addition, the Victorian Government hopes to provide more information to local communities about mining’s value and build a socially and environmentally responsible mining environment.

The second key action area, Advancing Geoscience and Encouraging Mineral Exploration and Development, refers primarily to the Victorian Government’s plan to create a Victorian resources prospectus to increase interest in mineral investment to Victoria. The Victorian Government will also attempt to make use of freight transport for mineral operation expansion and support skills development for mining (and mining services) through apprenticeships and TAFE courses.

The third action area, Victoria as a Global Mining Hub, is to focus on Victoria’s expansion as a mining exports provider. It cites factors such as the continuing growth of Victoria’s mining exports as a percentage of total exports, increase in mining companies, and hosting of events such as the annual International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) in Melbourne as evidence of this.

The fourth and penultimate action point, Improve Regulatory Practice and Industry Compliance, will see the creation of a robust regulatory system that builds on the Victorian Government’s current Earth Resources Regulation (ERR), part of the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources.

ERR has seen backlog reductions in the last year for work plan and licence applications since the commencement of reforms last year, and the 2018-19 Victorian Budget will include $12.7 million of funding to support the implementation of further regulatory streamlining procedures, including an upgraded online system for mining applications.

The overall aim of this section will be to “simplify processes, sharpen risk focus, provide clear and timely information” as well as to “improve coordination between regulators”, “build regulator capability to support industry compliance,” and “measure, evaluate and report on regulatory and industry performance”.

The final key action point is Deliver Modern, Fit-For-Purpose Laws, which will allow for increased options for “responsible and safe” mining and mineral exploration. In August, the Victorian Government introduced the Mineral Resources (Sustainable Development) Amendment Bill 2018, which declared that a new Mine Land Rehabilitation Authority (MLRA) be implemented to succeed the current Latrobe Valley Mine Rehabilitation Commissioner (LRMVC).

Mines are to develop post-closure rehabilitation plans, with said plans a legal obligation of the landowner, with MLRA able to take on this role and responsibility in exchange for payment from the mine owner.

The action point states that the Victorian Government will develop on this bill by increasing transparency for investors and the community, amending the Mineral Resources (Sustainable Development) Act (MRSDA) to allow for the publication of non-commercial-in-confidence mining licences and work plans.

Information disclosure requirements will be revised, as will requirements for the timeliness of the release of mineral exploration data. Commercial-in-confidence data will be” appropriately protected where there is a genuine need for non-disclosure,” the report states.

Overall, the Victorian Government has delivered an ambitious report that suggests a confidence in mining’s returning optimism. As Davison says, “State of Discovery provides an opportunity to grow the state’s minerals industry through greater investment attractiveness, more engaged communities and modern regulatory regimes.”

This article originally appeared in the October issue of Australian Mining.

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