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Proposed Big Hill Open Cut Gold Mine

Stawell Gold Mines (SGM) previously proposed the development of an open-cut gold mine along the Big Hill ridge within its existing mining licence area. Big Hill is located in the north-east of Stawell township in western Victoria, near the central business area.

What is happening to the Big Hill Open Cut Gold Mine proposal?

On 29 October 2014 the then Minister for Planning recommended that the project as proposed would generate unacceptable effects on air quality and risks to human health for the Stawell community. However it was concluded that the project could be reconsidered if those concerns were addressed.

Since the outcome of the 2014 Environment Effects Statement (EES) assessment, Stawell Gold Mines (SGM) has advised the Government that it intends to submit a modified proposal that addresses the issues raised in the assessment.

On 24 February 2017, the Hon. Wade Noonan MP, Minister for Resources announced an assessment process for SGM's revised proposal to develop an open-cut gold mine along Big Hill ridge in Stawell.

The government will ensure that the community is given the opportunity to participate in the assessment process by providing for a 'Community Advisor and Community Education Grant' program to assist them through the process.

Read the Minister's announcement.

What is involved in the assessment process?

The assessment involves a multi-stage process which includes the following:

  1. Regulator evaluation of modified proposal
  2. Ministerial appointment of Independent Expert Plan to evaluate modified proposal
  3. Independent Expert Panel Public Consultation Phase
  4. Independent Expert Panel Evaluation
  5. Work Plan Evaluation.

The flowchart below provides a summary of the major stages and decision points of the assessment process. A more detailed description of the stages of the assessment process is provided following the flowchart.

The graphic shows the responsible party for each stage, the applicant submits to DEDJTR for stages one and two. Stages three and four involve an independent panel. The appicant considers recomendations in stage five and submits the plan to DEDJTR to be assessed.

Stage 1: Regulator Evaluation

If a modified proposal is received, the regulators, Earth Resources Regulation (ERR) and the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) with guidance from the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, will evaluate:

a) whether the modified proposal is likely to address the issues raised in the 2014 EES assessment

b) whether the modified proposal fits within the project assessed under the 2014 EES assessment.

If the modified proposal meets both of the above requirements, it will be referred to the Independent Expert Panel for evaluation.

Where the submission doesn't meet part a) (above), it will be returned to the applicant. If the submission doesn't meet part b) (above), the applicant will be advised that the project will need to be referred to the Minister for Planning to determine if an EES is required.

Stage 2: Appointment of Independent Expert Panel

If the modified proposal proceeds past the regulator evaluation stage, the Minister for Resources will appoint an Independent Expert Panel to assess the proposal.

Stage 3: Independent Expert Panel – Public Consultation Phase

Once the Independent Expert Panel has been appointed, it will release the modified proposal for public consultation for a 6 week period. This period provides the community the opportunity to review the modified proposal and make written submissions to the independent expert panel. The public consultation phase will also include public information sessions where the modified proposal will be presented to the community.

Following the public consultation period and once the panel has reviewed and considered the written submissions, a formal public hearing will be convened, where the applicant and community members can speak and present expert witnesses.

Stage 4: Independent Expert Panel – Evaluation Phase

The Independent Expert Panel will evaluate the proposal, written submissions and evidence presented at the public hearings. The Panel may take into account any matter it thinks relevant in making its report and recommendations.

The panel will evaluate whether the proposal's mitigation measure effectively address the air quality, noise and health issues raised in the 2014 EES assessment.

Following the evaluation, the panel will prepare a report of their findings, provide recommendations and an overall assessment of the appropriateness of the proposal to the Minister for Resources. The Report must be provided within the time specified in the instrument of appointment or within 60 days of the appointment of the panel.

If the panel's evaluation of the proposal is favourable, the applicant may submit a work plan for assessment by the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources (DEDJTR). However regardless of the outcome, the applicant is under no obligation to submit a work plan.

Note:  Any work plan submitted by SGM must incorporate any recommendations of the panel evaluation to be evaluated favourably by DEDJTR.

If the evaluation of the proposal is unfavourable, it is unlikely that the applicant will succeed in gaining approval to proceed with the Big Hill project.

Stage 5: Work Plan Evaluation

Should the applicant submit a work plan, it must be assessed by DEDJTR in accordance with the requirements of the Mineral Resources (Sustainable Development) Act 1990 (MRSDA) and take into account the evaluation and recommendations of the Independent Expert Panel.

If the work plan meets the requirements of the MRSDA and satisfactorily addresses the evaluation and recommendations of the Independent Expert Panel, the DEDJTR may approve the work plan.

Why has an assessment process been developed for the Big Hill project?

The department has developed an assessment process to consider a modified proposal for the Stawell Gold Mine Big Hill Open Cut Mine that addresses the matters that led to the original Big Hill proposal receiving an unfavourable assessment by the Minister for Planning. This is consistent with the process recommended in the then Minister for Planning's assessment report on the findings of the 2014 EES assessment.

How will this differ from an EES assessment process?

The assessment process is very similar to an EES assessment process. Like an EES assessment, the process will be run by an independent expert panel provided by Planning Panels Victoria.

The process will differ in that the panel will have access to the 2014 EES assessment report.  Aspects of the project which have been previously adequately addressed and are unchanged, may not be considered further. The assessment process will predominately consider any changes to the proposal and how the applicant has addressed matters that led to the original Big Hill proposal being assessed unfavourably.

How will the community be consulted in the assessment process?

The assessment process includes a public consultation phase. The public consultation phase includes:

  • Public information sessions
  • Written submissions
  • Public hearings run by the Independent expert panel.

Community members can attend public information sessions, make written submissions and speak and present expert witnesses at the public hearings.

A panel must conduct its hearing in public unless any person making a submission objects to making the submission in public and the panel is satisfied that the submission is confidential in nature.

Will the Government support the community during the assessment process?

Yes. Support will be provided through a program for the Stawell community, known as the 'Community Advisor and Community Education Grant' program.

Community Advisor Grants will provide funding to up to two community groups for legal representation during the formal public inquiry phase of the assessment process. The department will also fund an independent service provider to deliver community education including workshops, information sessions and guidance on drafting submissions.

Find out more about the Community Advisor and Community Education Grant program.

How do community organisations apply for Government support?

The process for applying for these grants will be announced soon.

To receive updates on the Big Hill Mine assessment process register your details by emailing ERRFeedback@ecodev.vic.gov.au.

How are the members of the Independent Expert Panel appointed?

The Independent Expert Panel will be appointed as an advisory panel by the Minister for Resources under section 54A of the Mineral Resources (Sustainable Development) Act 1990 and coordinated through Planning Panels Victoria.

The Independent Expert Panel for the modified proposal will include technical experts, including in the fields of air quality and public health.

How long will the assessment process take?

If an application is received, the assessment process would be expected to take about 12 months to complete.

As outlined in the description of the assessment process (above), the community will have an opportunity to participate in Stage 3 of the assessment process.

The Independent Expert Panel will release the modified proposal for public consultation for a 6 week period. During this time, the public can make written submissions.

Following the public consultation period and once the panel has reviewed and considered the written submissions, a formal public hearing will be convened, where the applicant and community members can speak to their submissions and present expert witnesses.

Who will make the final decision on the Big Hill Proposal?

The Independent Expert Panel will provide the Minister for Resources with the Panel's report. The Minister will then provide the report to Stawell Gold Mines who will decide whether to submit a work plan for consideration by the Secretary of the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources (Secretary) or their delegate.

The decision to approve or refuse a work plan will made by the Secretary in accordance with the requirements of the Mineral Resources (Sustainable Development) Act 1990 (MRSDA), taking into account the evaluation and recommendations of the Independent Expert Panel.

Can another proposal for mining Big Hill be submitted?

Yes. The owner of the mining licence (currently SGM) can submit alternative proposals for mining Big Hill. However, any such proposal would need to be referred to the Minister for Planning to determine if an EES is required.