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Industry Q&A with Paul Bell

Chair of the newly created Queensland Uranium Implementation Committee, Paul Bell, spoke to  QMEB about what he hopes to achieve in his new role, and what he sees as the Committee’s most important priorities.

On your appointment, Premier Campbell Newman claimed your many decades representing the mining communities of Central Queensland positioned you well for this new role. What other skills and attributes do you bring to the Committee?

I worked in the mining industry for 18 years and in my council experience as Mayor of the former Emerald Shire Council, negotiated with international and Australian companies so I have a well rounded understanding of the mining industry from safety through to corporate drivers.

As Deputy Chair of Queensland Rail for 8 years I have a comprehensive understanding of transport logistics and as the Australian Local Government representative at COAG for 4 years I also have an understanding of politics.

Most importantly though, as immediate past President of the Local Government Association of Queensland and as current Chair of a Regional Development Australia committee, I understand the economic and social drivers for the regions of Queensland and I bring these combined skills to the table as Chair of the Queensland Uranium Mining Implementation Committee.

Depending on who you talk to, the number of jobs in Queensland that will be created by the lifting of the uranium ban is as little as a few hundred and as many as several thousand.

How many new jobs do you ultimately expect to be created?

Over the past 5 years there has been considerable interest in permits for uranium exploration in Queensland so a significant amount of activity has been undertaken to identify uranium deposits already.

The world demand for uranium for energy production will be the driver for investment and jobs in Queensland and with the Australian government now allowing Australian uranium into India, new opportunities will arise sooner rather than later.

Predictions of the number of jobs to be created in Queensland through uranium mining are not for me, nor my committee, to speculate on but we are aware that uranium mining will create jobs in the regions where economic diversity is required and real jobs for local people, particularly indigenous Australians, can and will happen.

Are you disappointed that Green groups have so far refused to be a part of the Implementation Committee? How do you see the committee addressing environmental issues without their direct input?

The committee has written to green groups seeking submissions from them in regards to the recommencement of uranium mining in Queensland.

We have also met with the Supervising Scientist from the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities that has been undertaking environmental research and monitoring of uranium mining activities in the Alligator Rivers region of the Northern Territory for the last 30 years.

Over the next two weeks we will be having further discussions with environmental groups in South Australia and Western Australia in regards to their constructive input into uranium mining in those states.

What will be the Committee’s top priorities in the first few months of operation?

The first two months of the committee’s operations is focused on generating an information flow about world best practice for uranium mining.

We have contacted federal, state and local governments, resource management groups, indigenous organisations, mining companies and their representative organisations, port authorities and transport and logistics companies to name a few.

We are also seeking feedback on our terms of reference from international organisations, companies and governments where uranium mining activities are undertaken or known. A review of relevant scientific information and data in regard to uranium mining activities is also being undertaken.

What do you see as the most important safety issues your Committee will address?

Our committee is dedicating significant time and resources to consideration of mine site safety, given that the transportation and export of uranium is foremost in the minds of communities and we must take account of those concerns.

The committee has also engaged the Queensland Government’s senior health personnel to ensure community health and safety issues are addressed in our recommendations.

When do you expect the Committee to complete its final report for the Government?

The committee will report to the Queensland Government on 18 March 2013.

Do you envision a Queensland port becoming Australia’s third uranium-handling port after Darwin and Adelaide?

The committee will be seeking the views of Darwin and Adelaide ports in regards to the possibility of the export of Queensland uranium through their facilities. We will also consider the appropriateness of uranium export through Queensland ports.

What role do you see the Federal Government playing in regulating the mining and export of uranium in Queensland?

The Federal Government has full responsibility for assessing applications and issuing permits for all Australian exports of uranium, and as such their input will be integral to the Panels considerations.

State and Territory governments are responsible for regulating the safe production, transport and storage of the ore prior to export, and much of the committee’s work will focus on implementing a world’s best regulatory framework to apply to these issues.

The committee has engaged Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson and his Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism at this very early stage. There has been a significant information flow and support for the recommencement of uranium mining in Queensland between the committee and RET.

The committee will identify other environmental and security regulatory roles that the Australian Government will play in the licensing approvals process and mining and export of uranium from Queensland.

Which regions do you think will gain the most from the lifting of the uranium ban?

There has already been extensive exploration activity undertaken in the Mt Isa and Gulf regions of Queensland but neither I nor the committee has an insight into who will make the first move and first investment into uranium mining in Queensland.

Which states or countries will you visit to research a best-practice framework for Queensland? Is there a current framework, nationally or internationally, you are particularly impressed by?

We have already visited the Northern Territory and have had extensive meetings in Darwin, Jabiru and at Ranger Mine.

Further investigative trips will be undertaken to South Australia and Western Australia during December and the committee does not intend to formalise its thinking in regards to frameworks etc until all information has been received and investigated and this is likely to be in early February.

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Paul Bell is the former President of the Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ) and is also the former President of the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA). Paul is currently a Councillor with the Central Highlands Regional Council and was Mayor of  Emerald Shire Council from 1991 to 2000 (Councillor since 1985). His previous roles include Director of Ergon Energy and Queensland Rail. Paul is a Member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and holds a BBus (Admin).