Client Update: Uranium back on the agenda in Queensland
25 September 2012
In brief: The Queensland resources minister has signalled the reopening of the debate on uranium mining in Queensland and the potential overturn of the existing policy against uranium mining. Senior Associate John Hedge reports on the possible change in policy and the consequences for investment in uranium projects in that state.
Queensland's last uranium mine closed in 1982 and successive Queensland governments have had a policy of not granting mining leases for the extraction of uranium (despite being willing to grant exploration permits for uranium).
Uranium exploration in Queensland has continued to occur, but at lower levels than other Australian jurisdictions where companies have been provided greater certainty about being able to ultimately develop any economic deposits that are discovered (currently South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory).
The policy positions of both the Labor Federal Government and Liberal/National Opposition are now aligned in favour of generally approving new uranium mining developments. However, the actual grant of any new uranium mining leases remains a decision for state and territory governments.
Queensland Resources Minister Andrew Cripps has indicated that the new government is keen to hear all views on the issue of uranium mining, as it has not been discussed for a generation. That evidently stops short of any commitment to actually reverse the current policy, but gives hope to proponents of the uranium industry.
There has been no mention of amending the existing Nuclear Facilities Prohibition Act 2007 (Qld), which prohibits the construction or operation of nuclear reactors and other types of nuclear processing and storage facilities in Queensland. However, that Act does not provide an obstacle to uranium mining leases being granted with a view to exporting uranium production.
The previous policy against uranium mining was never enshrined in legislation, such that no legislative amendments would be required to alter the policy position.
A lively debate can be expected on the potential policy change, with the Minister's comments already being welcomed by uranium and resources companies and industry bodies as a much needed reconsideration and opposed by environmental lobby groups as being a change from a pre-election policy.
It is anticipated that, if the Queensland Government does change its position (and is willing to support that with other changes to regulatory approval processes), that will enhance the prospects of increased uranium exploration investment in Queensland and potential development of those uranium deposits which have already been discovered but have previously been prevented from proceeding to development.
Any increase in uranium exploration and development in Queensland would be expected to have flow-on benefits including increased employment, state government royalties, potential reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from any increased usage of nuclear power and potential discoveries of other minerals commonly found with uranium (such as copper and gold).
- John HedgeSenior Associate,
Ph: +61 7 3334 3171
- John GreigExecutive Partner - Energy, Resources & Infrastructure,
Ph: +61 7 3334 3358
- Richard MalcolmsonPartner,
Ph: +61 2 9230 4717
- Igor BogdanichPartner,
Ph: +61 3 9613 8747
- Gerard WoodsPartner,
Ph: +61 8 9488 3705
- Chris SchulzPartner,
Ph: +61 3 9613 8772