Renegade Liberals remain firm on balancing farmer, mining rights
CATHERINE MILLER 11 Jul 2019, News
HOLDING STRONG: Narrunga MP Fraser Ellis, MacKillop MP Nick McBride, Davenport MP Steve Murray and Kavel MP Dan Cregan voted against the Statutes Amendment (Mineral Resources) Bill 2018 last week.A
The four renegade Liberal MPs who put their electorates’ sentiment ahead of their party have vowed to continue their fight for a fairer deal for the state’s farmers against mining companies.
Last week, the statute amendments to the Mining Act 1971 passed the House of Assembly with bipartisan support, despite Davenport MP Steve Murray, Narrunga MP Fraser Ellis, Member for MacKillop Nick McBride and Member for Kavel Dan Cregan voting against it.
The four Liberal MPs also crossed the floor in November looking for improvements to the bill, including an independent review ahead of any vote.
This was not forthcoming from the Liberal party.
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This time they were joined by three independents – Member for Frome Geoff Brock, Member for Mount Gambier Troy Bell and Member for Florey Frances Bedford.
The next step is for the Statutes Amendment (Mineral Resources) Bill 2018 to be debated and voted on in the Legislative Council.
Energy and Mining Minister Dan van Holst Pellekaan says he is looking forward to both the farming and mining sector enjoying the improvements contained in the mining act.
He says the act’s amendments were the subject of extensive consultation with both the farming and mining sectors since the last election, including a town hall meeting of 300 people in Maitland.
But Mr Murray disputes this, saying last week’s vote was a missed opportunity to overhaul a “tired, outdated piece of legislation”.
“It is far easier and cheaper for exploration companies to get hold of farmers’ land in SA than anywhere else in Australia and when the bill passes it will be even worse,” he said.
“This is not about giving farmers the right to veto or wanting to stop mining in SA but rather the same rights farmers in other states have.”
His main opposition to the bill is the land access rights being skewed towards mining companies and the “woefully inadequate” compensation for affected farmers, as well as lax measures to protect underground aquifers.
“The broader issue is the bill continues the fiction that all land in SA is same,” he said.
“Qld long ago addressed that with a planning-based approach, particularly recognising high value cropping land.”
He says to some extent, there is planning legislation covering the southern (McLaren) Vales and Barossa areas that could prevent mining, but he believes this needs to be replicated for each area.
“Of the total SA land mass, only 4 per cent is taken up with agriculture,” he said. “It is so little so it is not like we are locking up the state.”
Mr Murray says without changes, SA farmers will continue to get a raw deal compared with other states, especially WA, which is far more generous in its compensation.
“In SA it is a case if you go all the way to court you may win $25 per hole, which is a complete disgrace for compensating farmers for the loss of their livelihoods or a substantial part of their livelihoods,” he said.
Member for MacKillop Nick McBride also said the bill fell “well short” of increasing protection for farmers but also missed opportunities to help the mining sector. In his electorate he knew of several earth moving businesses that were finding it difficult to operate under existing legislation.
“If we had an independent review, we could pick up certain elements of each state’s jurisdictions to instigate a whole new mining act that is good for farmers but also benefits the mining industry as well,” he said.
Presently, mining companies only acquire the land they require for their mine, but he would like to see discussion on whether compensation should cover the whole property.
The more expensive the dirt the more hoops any mining company should have to go through like in other states – we aren’t calling for anything that does not already have precedent interstate.- Narrunga MP Fraser Ellis
“If they acquire 20 per cent of land, that landholder is now 20pc less efficient and while at 1.4 times the valued land price it is generous, but it is of no help in areas where land is tightly held and neighbouring land might only come up every 20 years, 50 years or even 100 years,” he said.
Mr McBride also has concerns about the changes that give the Mining Minister of the day the power to override the new exclusion zone distances set for invasive and non-invasive mining.
Mr Ellis says his opposition to the bill was more about what wasn’t in the proposed legislation than what was in it for his electorate, which includes some of the state’s most productive cropping land.
He said an independent review at “arm’s length” of the government and mining department was the only way to progress the issue.
“The more expensive the dirt the more hoops any mining company should have to go through like in other states – we aren’t calling for anything that does not already have precedent interstate,” he said.
Speaking in Parliament ahead of last week’s vote, Mr van Holst Pellekaan said an independent review was good in theory but was unlikely to achieve consensus.
“It’s better to lock in some gains now then start working on more, rather than waiting forever for the perfect solution,” he said.
“Providing landowners with the right to veto mineral exploration would effectively transfer the ownership of mineral resources from all South Australians to individual landowners and does nothing to help neighbours who would be left living near a mine when the veto right is bought out.
“SA’s mineral wealth belongs to all South Australians and helps to fund important public services such as hospitals, schools and roads.”