Farmers’ fury as controversial Mining Bill passes Lower House

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Angry farmers have watched on as controversial mining reforms passed the state parliament’s Lower House, despite four backbenchers crossing the floor to vote against it.

Adam Langenberg, Political reporter, July 4, 2019

MPs Nick McBride, Fraser Ellis, Steve Murray and Dan Cregan, crossed the floor. Pictured with MPs Troy Bell and Geoff Brock. Picture: Tom Huntley
MPs Nick McBride, Fraser Ellis, Steve Murray and Dan Cregan, crossed the floor. Pictured with MPs Troy Bell and Geoff Brock. Picture: Tom Huntley

Contentious mining reforms have passed state parliament’s Lower House, despite four government backbenchers crossing the floor to vote against it.

Devastated farmers watched on as the Mining Bill passed with Labor’s support late last night, with the legislation also destined to pass the Upper House.

Liberal backbenchers Fraser Ellis, Steve Murray, Dan Cregan and Nick McBride sided with Independent MPs Geoff Brock, Troy Bell and Frances Bedford.

They all said the Bill failed to deliver enough protections for farmers against mining companies who wanted to access their land, and called for an independent review into mining regulation.

Energy and Mining Minister Dan van Holst Pellekaan pushed ahead with the Bill after Labor guaranteed its support for it. He had initially shelved the legislation after the four backbenchers teamed up with Labor to delay it last year.

Mr Murray said there was “little doubt that the existing Mining Act leaves farmers at a substantial disadvantage, and this Bill, if enacted, will exacerbate the situation”.

He said SA’s mining laws were deliberately designed so the state’s farmland was the “cheapest and easiest to access” in the nation, in a bid to induce more mining exploration.

“To be crystal clear, this Bill will still result in farmers having mining exploration conducted on their properties whether they like it or not,” he said.

Backbenchers, Steve Murray, Dan Cregan, Nick McBride and Fraser Ellis, join Independent MPs Troy Bell, Geoff Brock in voting against the legislation. Picture: Tom Huntley

“It will still result in legislative exemptions for mining on farm land not being worth the paper they are written on, it will still result in woefully inadequate compensation processes to the financial detriment of the farmer (and) there will still be no enforcement of the few rights farmers do have.

Mr Ellis, from the Yorke Peninsula electorate of Narungga said the Government’s “failure to act in support of our farmers” was a “complete abdication of Liberal values”.

“The Liberal Party that I signed up to believes in individual freedom and free enterprise,” he said.

“Where farmers, and freehold landowners, are operating successful, viable, profitable, generational private enterprise they should be empowered to continue that operation free from the fear of government intervention.”

Yorke Peninsula farmer Ben Wundersitz at the rally. Picture: AAP / Kelly Barnes
Liberal MPs Fraser Ellis, Nick McBride, Steve Murray and Dan Cregan at Wednesday’s farmers’ rally against the Mining Bill. Picture: AAP / Kelly Barnes

Mr van Holst Pellekaan told State Parliament he understand the Bill was a “complex situation” but was confident the legislation struck the right balance and delivered improvements for both landholders and the mining sector.

“It can’t be agriculture or resources, it has to be agriculture and resources, otherwise our state will never fulfil the potential it has,” he said.

He told reporters yesterday that discussions with the four backbenchers had been cordial and he respected their right to “speak their mind” and vote against the legislation.

Labor energy and mining spokesman Tom Koutsantonis said the Bill was the best thing for growing the state’s economy.

The Yorke Peninsula Land Owners Group led the protest. Picture: Tom Huntley

The Bill is almost identical to that proposed by Mr Koutsantonis when he was mining minister in 2016.

“Make no mistake this is Labor’s legislation and I want to thank the Minister for doing all he can to pass Labor’s legislation,” he said.

Yorke Peninsula farmer Ben Wundersitz told a rally against the Bill that the the Government had failed to consult on the Bill, despite a state election commitment to do so.

“To me they’ve done absolutely bugger all, and it is not acceptable and it is not Australian,” he said.

Mr Wundersitz said both major parties were “playing with people” by political point scoring on the issue.

“I see people in this crowd that have spent the last seven years going through hell,” he said. “They’re not the same people they were and they don’t deserve to be treated the way they have.”

Farmers rally on the steps of Parliament House. Picture: Tom Huntley