Our biggest export industries, farming and mining, argue their cases in mining Bill debate

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Acrimony over laws that would allow mining companies access to farmers’ land spilled on to the floor of State Parliament this week, delaying debate until next year. Our two biggest export industries argue their cases.

Farmers deserve a better deal

Caroline

Caroline Rhodes, CEO, Grain Producers SA

 

Grain Producers SA chief executive officer Caroline Rhodes.

Grain Producers SA welcomes parliament’s decision this week to adjourn the debate on the Mining Bill until February.

People who live in Adelaide may not be aware but when a mining company wants to mine on a farmer’s property, farmers have very few rights in protecting their land if the development is not wanted. In fact, many would be horrified at the expense, stress and complexity that comes with dealing with a mining claim. It is a burden imposed on them, their business, and their family.

GPSA does not support the Government’s Bill in its current form. We want improved land access arrangements backed by stronger regulatory oversight.

On behalf of our members, we seek amendments to address the imbalance between farming and mining on agricultural land that the Bill fails to address.

Many farmers have lived through the real-life consequences of a system which places the rights of well-resourced miners and explorers above those of small business family farmers.

The current and proposed “protections” are meaningless when resource companies can easily take expensive legal action which gives them entry to a farmer’s property – even when the farmer does not want it.

In order to balance the competing interests between miners and farmers, GPSA strongly believes that there must be greater certainty outside the formal court process.

 


A sign on farmland protesting against mining. Picture: Tait Schmaal

This is especially the case in relation to conditions for entry on agricultural land, miner’s conduct on that land and compliance with access arrangements, mandatory consultation processes and compensation.

While these laws exist to support the mining industry in South Australia, farmers have every right to demand laws that ensure the sustainable and socially responsible extraction of mineral resources below prime agricultural land. Once prime land is lost to open-cut mining, it cannot be replaced.

Over the past two years, GPSA has consistently argued for the need to strengthen the rights of farmers when they are confronted with mining and mineral exploration. We are encouraged by the principled approach that a growing number of MPs have taken to enshrine a right of veto in the interests of our farming communities.

The minister should now use this additional time to restore confidence in the legislative process by improving consultation with farmers and their industry bodies. We have previously called for a review independent of the Department of Energy and Mining into the land access provisions of this Bill, and we do so again.

We’ve detailed a range of new policy initiatives, including a mandatory prescribed code of conduct to govern third party access to agricultural land, and the establishment of a mining commissioner to operate independently of the department.

If states such as Queensland can implement land access codes, then so can we.

On behalf of our members, GPSA is determined to negotiate a better deal for agriculture. We will continue to work with all sides of politics in order to reach a solution before the Parliamentary debate resumes in 2019.

 

FULL REVIEW IS CRUCIAL TO FUTURE

Rebecca Knol, CEO, SA Chamber of Mines and Energy

Rebecca Knoll
South Australian Chamber of Mines and Energy chief executive officer Rebecca Knol

This week highlights the importance of consultation. Consultation with all stakeholders – particularly when the issue being discussed has a profound impact on the financial health of a state.

There are two engine rooms in the state’s economy – resources & agriculture. Combined they contribute 83 per cent of the state’s exports and employ 65,900 people.

Collectively, these sectors fund our hospitals, schools and roads. When farming and resources prosper, so does the state.

Farmers and miners have co-existed since the 1840s and by building on this strong foundation of co-existence, we can continue to thrive alongside each other into the future. We have a statewide economic imperative to do so.

The state’s sovereign ownership of minerals has deep historical context.

The claim of the Crown to minerals originates from the English Case of Mines in 1567, and subsequently, a widely held belief that mineral deposits are a fortuitous “gift of nature” with any net benefits flowing from their exploitation belonging to the community rather than to whoever happens to own the surface rights.

Changing this right would place the state’s wealth in a private purse.

These non-renewable resources are held in trust by the governments of Australia who have a mandate to ensure that they are utilised efficiently and effectively in the interests of those they have been elected to represent.


Liberal MPs, back row left to right, Fraser Ellis, Steve Murray, Dan Cregan and Nick McBride sit with Labor MPs in State Parliament after crossing the floor to vote to adjourn the State Government’s controversial mining law changes. Picture: Adam Langenberg

Royalties flow to the state from mineral developments and today, in South Australia, the annual value of these royalties is $214 million. As a result, the state, on behalf of the people of South Australia, have responsibility for determining access to minerals for the best overall economic outcome, and should continue to do so.

The Mining Act was last revised in 1971.

It is a 47-year-old piece of legislation, the oldest Mining Act in the country and one that is both out of date and overdue for reform.

The process of modernising the Act in consultation with agriculture and mining commenced in 2017.

The current proposed amendments go some way to modernising the Act but it is widely acknowledged there is still work to do.

The South Australian Chamber of Mines and Energy has consistently called for a structural review of the Act commencing with an independent comparative analysis of other jurisdictions.

We are always seeking to lift the bar of industry and one of the best ways to do this is to look at what others are doing.

Mining occurs all over the world and there are many examples of legislation that are more contemporary than ours.

We feel that by starting with a review of how other states and countries have set up their legislation, we can begin to update our Act with one that is fit for South Australia today, and one that reflects the changes of this fast-growing, high tech industry.

With discoveries, such as BHP’s recent find of copper, mining continues to play an important part – not just in our past, but in our future.

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