Does it seem like the project of the mining company you’re following is taking forever? You’re not alone, and the government is moving to streamline resource project regulation.

Federal Resources Minister Matt Canavan said today that the Productivity Commission would look into the regulation around mining projects.

The review would sit alongside a statutory review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, and Canavan said reducing environmental red tape would be a key pillar of the Productivity Commission review.

“The aim is to ensure that resources projects are transparently and efficiently assessed while upholding robust environmental standards,” he said in a prepared statement.

However, talking to at a NSW mining health conference today, he took a different line.

“We can’t let something like Adani happen again,” he said. “No investor should be made to wait 10 years to get a yes or no answer. The development of our resources are too important to allow fringe activists to hijack the processes for their own narrow ends.”

He pointed to a condition placed upon Adani just before the recent federal election by the Queensland state government that it needed to count every black throated finch on its mine site before it got approval.

“This condition was absurd,” Canavan said.

After the federal election, Adani received final environmental approvals.

“Either Adani was extremely fast at counting, or the Queensland government saw common sense,” Canavan said.

The Productivity Commission review would also look into community engagement practices by mining companies including “best-practice community engagement, land-access and benefit-sharing practices by industry, governments, and other bodies.”

“All Australians have a stake in the resources sector and the benefits must be shared fairly,” Canavan said.

Industry reaction

Not surprisingly, industry bodies were optimistic about the prospect of quicker mining approvals.

“Regional communities and our minerals companies have been frustrated by long delays for projects such as Adani Carmichael, Wallarah 2, and Cameco Yeelirrie,” Minerals Council of Australia CEO Tania Constable said.

She stressed that this wouldn’t be about removing environmental protections, but the “removal of duplicative and unnecessary processes which do not enhance environmental outcomes”.

Constable also supported the idea of a review into whether the mining wealth was being shared around, but was quick to say that the mining industry had paid $30.6 billion in company tax and royalties during the 2018 financial year, which she noted was “the equivalent of all federal government spending on Australian schools, universities, and vocational training”.

Association of Mining and Exploration Companies CEO Warren Pearce said increasing costs and uncertainty of regulatory timeframes made attracting scarce investment capital increasingly difficult.

“This review needs to prune regulation cutting unnecessary and duplicative processes and costs, while maintaining effective oversight and risk-based regulation,” he said.

“It will also need to be undertaken in close collaboration with the approvals reform processes already under way in most Australian jurisdictions.”