CRUCIAL STEP: Member for Frome Geoff Brock will continue his push for a review into land access by resource companies when parliament returns next month.
INDEPENDENT MP Geoff Brock is calling on the state government to stop “stifling democracy” and at least debate a bill he introduced for an inquiry into mining land access.
Mr Brock first proposed the Commission of Inquiry (Land Access in the Mining Industry) Bill 2019, in the wake of the Lower House voting in favour of the Statutes Amendment (Mineral Resources) Bill 2018 in July, which changed the Mining Act 1971.
The inquiry bill aims to establish an independent review of the regulations surrounding land access onto properties by mining and resource companies.
“I’m not looking to review the (statute amendments) bill itself, it’s to understand (if we have) got the best systems in place,” he said.
He said there were reputable mining companies operating, but there were also cases of landowners being put in precarious situations by exploration companies, which could lead to large legal bills.
He would like an independent reviewer – “not an ex-politician” – to look at interstate and international jurisdictions and see if there was anything to learn and apply in the SA context.
“People say to me, ‘what is the best process’, but I want somebody, away from politics and industry, to look at best practice,” he said.
Mr Brock thought there might also be scope for addressing if the Department for Mining and Energy was best placed to act as regulator when it came to approving exploration licenses.
“The department is acting as promoter and regulator,” he said.
But despite introducing the bill in July, it is yet to be debated, with the latest case of the government voting for adjournment as recently as late November.
At the moment we can’t even have a conversation because the government has got the numbers to stop it. – GEOFF BROCK
Mr Brock said in that case, he was so frustrated he called for a division, with his attempt to continue discussion on the bill lost by three votes.
His push to discuss the bill was supported by two independent MPs and the Labor Party.
“Disappointingly, the four (Liberal) MPs who crossed the floor previously (against the statutes amendment bill) were no longer visible in supporting the debate of this bill,” he said. “I’m open to any amendments, but we can’t even get to that stage.
“At the moment we can’t even have a conversation because the government has got the numbers to stop it.
“I am frustrated they’re not even allowing any debate to occur. I feel it’s stifling democracy.”
A state government representative said Hansard showed Mr Brock’s bill was only postponed once, “which is not unusual for a proposal from any MP”.
Mr Brock said Hansard only showed the instance where he called for a division but the bill had been adjourned “on the voices” at least four other times, which were not recorded.
With the government planning to prorogue parliament when it returns, which would kill off all existing legislation, Mr Brock said he planned to reintroduce the bill in February with slightly changed wording in the title to include the whole resource sector.
The government representative said the mining act amendments delivered greater protection for landowners while more consultation would be carried out.
“The recently passed Mining Act delivers greater protection for landholders in their dealings with mining companies and more stringent guidelines for exploration companies,” they said.
“The act also increases penalties for mining companies that breach the law and provides for better enforcement.
“The state government will now embark upon further consultation to assess what other improvements can be delivered.”
Grain Producers SA has sought an independent review into the situation between mining companies and landowners, with chief executive officer Caroline Rhodes calling Mr Brock’s bill a “positive step forward for both the agricultural and resources sectors”.
“Only a review that is separate from the government can properly assess the land access framework and propose a workable, reasonable solution in line with interstate best practice,” she said.
“A comprehensive framework that deals with competing land uses may be adaptable to other issues including renewable energy and petroleum extraction.
“GPSA supports the bill and stands ready to engage with a Commission of Inquiry.”