Fast-track farce: Govt’s $1.3b hurry-up lands projects in a ten-year approval quagmire

There’s something quite perverse about the Morrison Government’s $1.3 billion cash splash for manufacturing announced this week.

Mar 05, 2021, updated Mar 05, 2021
The QRC flow chart for the approval process for a mine in Queensland

The QRC flow chart for the approval process for a mine in Queensland

Essentially it’s about boosting the processing of strategic minerals – a good idea welcomed by the mining industry, which obviously benefits.

The secondary benefit would be that Australia would be less reliant on China, which may also be a good thing.

Those critical minerals are in high demand for new technology. It includes minerals like lithium and vanadium that are used in batteries for electric vehicles-  and Queensland has a lot of vanadium.

Department of Industry data showed there were more than 20 critical minerals projects that were either already committed or advanced in planning in Australia’s major project pipeline. Industry group AMMA forecast these projects would create at least 2700 new jobs in the next five years.

That’s great, except the idea falls apart when it comes to getting a project developed, which at the moment is stretching out beyond a decade in Queensland if it is for something controversial like coal – also abundant in the state.

The Queensland Resources Council developed a flow chart of the approval process and if accurate, it’s ridiculously byzantine.

The southern states have shown a similar reluctance to allow gas developments.

There are, of course, good reasons to be concerned about coal and gas developments and the environmentalists, who are now as much a part of the political process as any other lobby group, do have solid ground for their protests. But why have a process that takes more than a decade?

It’s not even really a process, it’s more a test of patience.

If we are going to have a mining industry let’s be real about it, otherwise let’s do something else. Stalling project development for political expedience just impacts investment everywhere.

We saw how ridiculous this approval process can get with the Adani coal mine and New Hope has now found itself back in the Land Court after 14 years of trying to get approval for its Acland expansion.

Once again, there are good reasons to oppose thermal coal but that is not a process.

The Fraser Institute each year comes up with a list of countries that it concludes have been attractive for mining and investment. There was a time when Queensland was near the top of the list. Queensland is now 16th out of 77.

There’s a promising vanadium project at Julia Creek that QEM is trying to prove up. It’s a massive resource, but it has oil shale sitting on top of it. Quite a lot, too.

Now, Julia Creek is obviously well off target for environmentalists but the last time someone tried to develop oil shale in Queensland (Southern Pacific Petroleum) it took more than a decade and was eventually hounded out of town by activists. It didn’t help that its process was flawed.

So if QEM got to the point of seeking environmental approval would it also face a decade of approvals?

Queensland is also trying to get a hydrogen industry started because everyone knows the only ‘pollutant’ from the gas is water.

But British scientists recently found hydrogen was an indirect greenhouse gas with a potential global warming effect. Two Australian scientists also recently warned against the potential greenhouse impacts.

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And let’s not forget hydrogen, even in low concentrations, is highly combustible.

Lithium mining has been disastrous for the environment in some parts of the world. That doesn’t mean it would be in Australia, but when has that stopped activists? Would lithium prove just as controversial?

If you do a google search on any of the strategic minerals you could potentially find reasons to oppose them. Cobalt mining, for example, produces a dust that’s bad for asthma. Who knew?

The point is that it is easy to find a way not to do something. It’s much harder to have a backbone.









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