Explorer Chinalco Yunnan Copper says bureaucratic bottlenecks are holding up the issuing of exploration permits, leaving a rich copper belt in north west Queensland untouched.
Managing director Jason Beckton says applications for exploring ground in Queensland are taking way too long - about two years - to process.
Chinalco Yunnan Copper, which is 51 per cent held by Aluminium Corporation of China (Chinalco), holds several copper projects between Mt Isa and Cloncurry in Queensland including Mt Frosty, which it is acquiring from Xstrata, and the Mary Kathleen joint venture with Goldsearch.
"There's a serious crisis in the tenements application process," Mr Beckton said.
"There's vacant ground, would you believe it, between Mt Isa and Cloncurry.
"There's old copper workings that no one is applying for because logistically it's too hard to get the tenements granted.
"It takes too long."
He said he suspected the delays were caused by a combination of bureaucratic backlogs and pressure from environmental groups.
"People blame native title and it's not (the cause)," Mr Beckton said.
"It's the government bureaucracy that's overloaded and there's not enough staff."
Mr Beckton said exploration permits were also taking longer than usual to grant in South Australia, a state that had for many years been considered the nation's most progressive in terms of stimulating minerals exploration.
"South Australia used to be six weeks. Now it's blown out to a year," he said.
Chinalco Yunnan Copper is also active in Laos, where it expects to move quickly into production once it defines a significant copper and silver resource.
With its parent company - the world's second-largest aluminium producer - just across the border in China, equipment such as drill rigs could be swiftly deployed, Mr Beckton said.
Cashflow from Laos would help fund work in Australia and Chile, where it is in three joint ventures with Rio Tinto and a separate joint venture with Xstrata.
Chinalco Yunnan Copper has about $7 million in cash and does not plan to tap shareholders for funds for some time, Mr Beckton said.
Eventually, the company will dual list in Santiago Chile, he said.
Shares in Chinalco Yunnan finished steady at 16 cents on the Australian Securities Exchange.
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