Uranium Mining in Queensland – Campbell Newman Lifts Ban on Uranium Mining

Contact: Carter Newell (Queensland, Australia)

Lifting the ban

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman announced on 22 October 2012 that the Queensland Government's longstanding ban on uranium mining will be lifted.

Uranium was last mined in north-west Queensland's Mary Kathleen mine in the early 1980s. Significantly, Australia has approximately 31 per cent[1] of the world's uranium deposits. According to the Queensland Resources Council (QRC), Queensland's deposits are worth approximately $18 billion and are contained in more than 80 known sites. QRC's Chief Executive Michael Roche said that the $18 billion resource value translates into $900 million in potential royalties from uranium mining.[2]

Queensland is moving in line with South Australia, the Northern Territory and Western Australia, where mining of uranium is currently permitted. Exploration for uranium was approved in New South Wales in February this year.

The lifting of the ban in Queensland comes at the same time as the Prime Minister's discussions with the Indian Government in relation to supplying uranium to India. The change in policy is not without opposition; notwithstanding the fact that both the Federal Government and the Federal Opposition support uranium mining.

Uranium Implementation Committee

The resumption of uranium mining in Queensland will be overseen by the newly formed Uranium Implementation Committee headed by former Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ) president and Central Highlands Councillor, Paul Bell. The Committee members include the State Government's chief scientist Dr Geoff Garrett, and other industry representatives.

The Committee's purpose is to develop a best-practice framework to advise the State Government on how uranium mining and exportation should develop and operate in Queensland, while ensuring that communities are well informed and have input into how uranium activities should be carried out. The Committee will also investigate regional and community development opportunities, safety and logistics issues, approval processes, rehabilitation, royalties and the other states' uranium industries and operations.

The Committee will provide a report into uranium mining, uranium export and related issues in March 2013.

Exploration and mining

The Queensland Government's previous policy on uranium mining stated that it would not grant mining tenements for the purpose of mining uranium, nor for the treatment or processing of uranium in Queensland. However, this policy was never implemented in legislation, and therefore lifting the ban will not require legislative amendments.

Uranium is a mineral for the purposes of the Mineral Resources Act 1989. A holder of an exploration permit for minerals may explore for uranium, but the right to explore does not give the holder any basis to mine uranium according to the previous policy. An application for a mineral development licence or a mining lease under the Mineral Resources Act 1989 requires the applicant to specify the minerals that the applicant wishes the tenement to apply to. Once the best practices framework and principles have been established, the holder of an existing exploration permit for minerals will be permitted to apply for a mineral development licence or mining lease for uranium.

Conclusion

Campbell Newman's announcement to lift the ban on uranium mining in Queensland and the Uranium Implementation Committee's Report due in March 2013 will generate a great deal of interest and activity in uranium exploration in Queensland over the coming months.

The change in policy and the release of the Committee's report next year will provide a level of investment certainty in the industry.

The opening up of the uranium sector in Queensland provides an opportunity for existing explorers to obtain further funding required in order to take steps toward mine development.

By James Plumb, Partner and Carson Salzmann, Solicitor