Mineral and energy resource exploration: inquiry report

5 Mar 2014

Introduction: This report provides a description of resource exploration, the role of governments, and examines the exploration licencing process.

It summarises the regulatory approvals that explorers are required to obtain in order to undertake mineral and energy resource exploration, specifically in relation to land access, Indigenous and non-Indigenous heritage, environment and public geoscience information.

It also assesses non-financial barriers relating to workforce issues — labour skills, workplace relations and workplace health and safety.

Key points:

  • Mineral and energy resource exploration in Australia is a small part of the economy, equivalent to 0.5 per cent of GDP in 2011-12. The sector's significance is in discovering commercially valuable resources that sustain the operations of mineral and energy extraction industries — which represented 9 per cent of GDP in 2011-12.
  • The number, size and quality of resource discoveries in Australia is declining over the longer term, and the exploration sector is experiencing rising costs and lower productivity.
  • Governments regulate resource exploration for three broad reasons:
    • the mineral and energy resources are owned by the Crown
    • exploration may impact on existing and future land uses such as agriculture, or damage sites of environmental and heritage significance
    • exploration may have effects beyond the area being explored, such as on the regional environment and nearby communities.
  • Many stakeholders are dissatisfied with the current regulatory arrangements:
    • some explorers claim that governments are discouraging exploration by increasing compliance costs, extending approval times and increasing regulatory uncertainty
    • some community groups claim that regulations are insufficient to protect heritage, environmental and community values and agricultural uses of the land, and that regulators are not being sufficiently diligent in protecting those values and land uses.
  • Regulatory processes that impose unnecessary burdens on resource explorers or inhibit exploration can be reformed by:
    • ensuring stronger and simpler coordination, transparency and accountability of exploration licence approval processes
    • making land access decisions that take into account the benefits of exploration to the wider community, and that are appropriate to the level of risk posed by exploration as informed by sound evidence
    • improving access to the existing knowledge of Indigenous heritage and accrediting state and territory government processes which meet Australian Government standards of Indigenous heritage protection
    • addressing state, territory and Commonwealth environmental approvals processes that are duplicative and are not commensurate with the risk and significance of the environmental impacts of exploration.
  • Explorers highly regard the accessibility and provision of pre-competitive data by Australia's geological survey organisations. However, the effectiveness of state and territory geological survey organisations is hampered because significant shares of their budgets are from short-term funding initiatives.
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