Australia is one of the most biologically diverse countries on the planet. It is home to more than one million species of plants and animals, many of which are found nowhere else in the world. The country has diverse landscape formations ranging from snow-capped mountains of the Australian Alps and Tasmania to large deserts, tropical and temperate forests. Australia is the driest inhabited continent on earth, with the least amount of water in rivers, the lowest runoff and the smallest area of permanent wetlands of all the continents. There are 19 Australian properties on the World Heritage List (including the Tasmanian Wilderness).
Tasmania is the only island state of Australia, with a surface area of 26,410 square miles. It is located 150 miles to the south of the Australian continent, separated by the Bass Strait and the Roaring Forties. Geologically, Tasmania consists of four regions and is considered a “natural state”, owing to its large and relatively unspoiled natural environment with almost 45% of its land consisting of reserves, national parks and World Heritage Sites. The ecology of Tasmania is unique, primarily owed to the fact that it is geographically isolated. It is well known for its flora and fauna, much of which is found only in Tasmania. It also exhibits the largest carnivorous marsupial in the world, the Tasmanian Devil, and the now extinct Tasmanian Tiger.
PRINCIPAL LEGISLATION AND REGULATOR
The main legislation applicable to Tasmania is the Mineral Resources Development Act 1995 (TAS) (MRDA) and the Environmental Management and Pollution Control Act 1994 ( TAS) (EMPCA), which together provides the framework for regulating development and protecting the environment; ensuring the proper management, development and conservation of natural and man-made resources.
The EMPCA is partly administered by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), which is headed by a board of independent directors (“Directors”). The Directors have the authority to exercise powers at arm’s length from the State Government and have independent statutory powers under the EMPCA (Issuing Environment Protection Notices, Environmental Infringement Notices). The EPA is supported by the EPA Division of the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment, and the Tasmanian Planning Commission (TPC), which is overseen by the Minister for Planning and Local Government (“Minister”).
The MRDA requires every mining tenement application to be accompanied by a statement detailing the likely impact on the environment. An application may be refused if insufficient information is provided (ss. 11, 17A and 78A, MRDA). Under the authority provided the EMPCA, the EPA assesses developments that fall within level 2 activities as defined in Schedule 2 of the EMPCA (which includes mining and mineral related activities). Once assessed, the EPA can set and enforce conditions on permits (including mining tenements) and may make recommendations to the Minister to either refuse or grant approval for a project (Division 4, EMPCA). The EPA may also vary the conditions set, by issuing a regulatory Environment Protection Notice (s44 EMPCA).
Despite the powers granted to the EPA, the ultimate decision rests with the Minister (s. 25, EMPCA). The Minister, who normally delegates his or her authority to the TPC (who further delegates the authority to panel members), has the discretion to refuse a permit or grant a permit either unconditionally or subject to conditions (s. 25(9), EMPCA and s. 8, Tasmanian Planning Commission Act 1997).
Additionally, certain projects may be declared;
Furthermore, any development that falls within “matters of national environmental significance” will be subject to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth), requiring an environmental impact assessment and approval from the Commonwealth Minister for the Environment.