With exploration licenses covering 80 per cent of prime agricultural land on the Yorke and Eyre Peninsula, tensions have long been building between the mining and grain industries in South Australia.
A current review of the 1971 Mining Act has reignited this divisive issue and raised concerns that current legislation does not make farmers rights clear when it comes to exploration on their land.
There is currently more than $40 billion of investment tied up in South Australian freehold land and nine mines in operation south of the Goyder line.
Last year, the State Government announced the Leading Practice Mining Acts Review of the Mines and Works Inspection Act 1920, the Mining Act 1971 and the Opal Mining Act 1995 with the view to introduce a bill to Parliament in 2017.
In response, Grain Producers SA gathered with farmers and government regulators at meetings this week, to encourage members to take part this opportunity to make submissions for change.
As the last substantive review of the 1971 Mining Act took place more than 40 years ago, many farming communities said the review was long overdue.
Grain and livestock producer Milton Stevens said his property on the lower Eyre Peninsula was impacted by exploration activities for magnetite in 2012.
He said the review was a step in the right direction, to ensure mining and exploration companies remained compliant.
“The problem is the administration and regulation of the act, in that most of the exploration companies and mining companies have never been made to comply to the act,” he said.
“Therein lies the problem, there has been no regulation of the requirements of the act.
“At the moment DSD are both the promotors and the regulators of mining, there is a distinct conflict of interest in that; you cannot promote and regulate.
“The regulation should be a separate agency, adequately funded with a number of inspectors to deal with the multitude of exploration licenses and work that is occurring right across the state because so far there is no one checking over their shoulders effectively.”
Mr Stevens said the current legislation made it hard for landholders to get hold of an exploration projects’ Program for Environment Protection and Rehabilitation (PEPR), a documents which outlined the plan for the life of mine.
“They are legislated as it stands to be made available on day one of the company approaching land holders but that has never been enforced [or] regulated,” he said.
“Those PEPRs are what the landholders can use to assess what the company is going to be doing on their country.
“To know when and where they’re going to be there, how serious the impact will be and how to adjust a compensation factor to deal with the results of that exploration and or mining.”
Mr Stevens said as it stood, the current act did not go far enough to protect farmers rights and that was something that he would like to see change.
“The landowners have been ignored and left out in the dark and they have not been informed of what their rights are,” he said.
“The intrusion of mining and exploration to their lifestyle and their business is significant; the social implications, the personal stress that implicates and brings on is significant and that has not been addressed.”
For fourth generation Yorke Peninsula farmer, Brenton Davey, the impact of copper mining activity on his property is a reality he lives with every day.
Mr Davey said the Hillside mine had “encroached” on his family’s 170-year history on the land.
“It’s the first thing that we think of when we wake up in the morning, and it’s the last thing at night,” he said.
“It’s very stressful for my entire family that we have this thing hanging over our heads.
“I’d like to see the act strengthened, [so] that under Section 9, a cultivated field is exempt from mining and or exploration full stop.
“We shouldn’t have to be badgered around through the courts to get this so called adequate compensation for them to come in and do what they want.
Mr Davey said there was no amount of compensation that could make up for seeing his forefathers land damaged by mining activity.
“We’ll put in a submission and I will advocate for the protection of prime cropping land on the Yorke Peninsula.
“It’s is the backbone and the biggest economic earner for this state.”
The Mineral Resources Division principal policy adviser said she hoped that landholders certainty surrounding their rights and transparency around mining exploration activities could be improved through the review process.
The Department of State Development’s Melissa Muller agreed there were parts of the Mining act that needed more clarity and encouraged land holders to take advantage of this rare opportunity to make submissions for change.
“Land owners’ certainty is a priority; knowing how they’re going to go forward with their businesses in the future and how long it takes for a development to go through exploration into mining,” she said.
“This is a good opportunity to be able to make the act a more transparent piece of legislation and at the moment the way the act is it’s not as easy to make PEPRs publicly available.
“That is certainly one document that the department thinks is really important for everybody to have access to.”
Ms Muller said the department had made the regulation of compliance to mining legislation more transparent over the years.
“We have a team of exploration compliance officers and also mining compliance officers,” she said.
“There’s requirements for six monthly and 12 monthly reporting to the department.
“So once again coming back to transparency, I think that will improve things going forward.”
Ms Muller said DSD were committed to conducting the review process internally.
“There’s been independent reviews in the past in other jurisdictions and it’s something we’ve chosen as a Government to move forward with the review,” she said.
“We’ve got a few years now of listening to people in the regions, so we believe that we’re probably best placed to undertake the review.”
The exploration process under the 1971 Mining Act
||All of these steps must be approved by the Department of State Development for a mining project to operate under the current Mining Act 1971. Once the tenement is obtained, operational approval is only granted once a PEPR is submitted.On exempt land (i.e. cultivated land, close to a residence or spring) a mining company must reach an agreement with the land holder for compensation or the matter can be taken to the Environmental Resources and Development Court under Section 9aa of the legislation.|
The grain industry
However South Australia’s peak grain industry body said they had lost confidence in the State Government to protect the rights of farmers against mining exploration companies.
Grain Producers SA said in a recent survey of their members, 70 per cent were concerned about the impact of mining and alternate land use on the grain industry as a whole.
GPSA has called for an independent review panel to take charge of the Mining act review.
Chairman Wade Dabinett said the department’s role as a promotor and regulator of exploration, provided a conflict of interest.
“We’re concerned around the independence around that review,” he said.
“The department has given the view that the Land Access framework has been working and striking the right balance, which is completely at odds with the issues that we’ve been putting towards the Minister and the Department.
“So that’s where we’re trying to make sure land owners and grain producers voices are being heard, so under this review we can actually get some more balance towards the land owner not towards mining.”
Mr Dabinett said the exploration process was not only a huge disturbance to farmers’ businesses but also their health and emotional well-being.
“They say in the discussion paper that it could take a 1000 exploration efforts or operations before you get one mine, so that’s a massive amount of disturbance to people who are trying to run an existing business,” he said.
“There needs to be greater consideration to the land owners about what that disturbance of exploration is actually causing, not just physical and financial distress on businesses but emotional as well.
“And that’s where we don’t think the balance has been anywhere near right between land owners and mining,” Mr Dabinett said.
GPSA have appealed to the State Government to extend the submission process from February 24, 2017 to the end of March.
More information about the review is available at the State government’s Your Say website.
The Country Hour has contacted the SA Chamber of Commerce Minerals and Energy for comment on the Mining act review.