SA mining bill passes Upper House

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Stock Journal 18 Oct 2019, 10:30 a.m.

THE state government’s controversial mining bill was passed in the Legislative Council today, marking the end of a long and at times heated passage through parliament.

The Statutes Amendment (Mineral Resources) Bill 2018 had attracted the ire of many agricultural landowners, with some saying the legislation was too firmly in support of mining companies.

Designed to update the Mining Act 1971, the bill passed the Lower House in July with bipartisan support, despite three independents and Liberals Davenport MP Steve Murray, Narungga MP Fraser Ellis, Member for MacKillop Nick McBride and Member for Kavel Dan Cregan voting against it.

The four Liberal MPs had previously crossed the floor in November last year, looking for improvements to the bill, including an independent review ahead of any vote.

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In the Legislative Council SA Best and The Greens proposed 68 further amendments to the bill which they said addressed the worst of the inequities to farmers.

The five-member cross bench – The Greens Mark Parnell and Tammy Franks, SA Best’s Frank Pangallo and Connie Bonaros and independent John Darley- voted in favour of these further amendments, along with Liberals’ Dennis Hood and Terry Stephens who crossed the floor.

But they were outvoted 14 votes to seven with Labor siding with the government.

Mining and Energy Minister Dan van Holst Pellekaan said the changes passed today would have benefits for both landowners and the resources sector.

“Our government is committed to improving landowner rights, increasing protections for our environment and delivering more investment and jobs to our regional areas,” said the Minister.

“The changes mean landowners will have more time, more legal support, increased access to justice and stronger protections when approached by exploration and mining companies.

“This will simplify the process for all involved in exploration and mining operations, and introduce more stringent and modern environmental enforcement powers to ensure that operations and rehabilitation occur in line with approvals.”

According to the government, improved conditions for landholders include increased money available for legal advice, greater exempt land distance from assets such as homes and increased time to make decisions after a notice is served.

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Mr van Holst Pellekaan said development of the bill had been shaped by “direct engagement” with 70 organisations and more than 500 individuals at meetings throughout the state.

“Agriculture and mining are both critical pillars of SA’s economy, bolstering the prosperity of regional communities across the state and they must both be supported to thrive,” he said.

“We will now move on to developing and delivering the next tranche of improvements for both these important sectors and regional SA in general.”

But Greens MLC Mark Parnell is disappointed, especially with the Opposition, who he says were “missing in action” and did not justify why they would not support “reasonable amendments”.

“It says mining comes first for this government and farming and other activities are lower down the pecking order,” he said.

“It is not fair- it is not good for the economy and it is not good for the environment.”

Among Greens SA’s proposed amendments were ensuring any dispute was heard in the Environment and Resource Development Court rather than the Mining Warden’s Court which nearly always finds in favour of the mining company.

Mr Parnell also wanted a list of criteria legislated which the court would need to take into account, such as the impact of any mining proposal on farming operations, neighbouring landowners and the environment, but also take a long-term view.

“We can have farmland that is productive for centuries or we could mine it for five years and it is never used again for farming as the land is often not rehabilitated, especially open cut mines,” he said.

Mr Parnell also strongly pushed for an agricultural impact statement to be undertaken when disputes arose.

“We acknowledge that we all benefit from the products of mining but mining shouldn’t always prevail over every other land use,” he said.

“The other amendments were about making mining more difficult in farming areas- we wanted the mining industry to realise the low hanging fruit is outside farming areas and when they do decide to enter farm land the assessments must be more thorough.”

The passage of the bill was welcomed by the SA Chamber of Mines and Energy as a ‘positive first step in modernising the Mining Act’.

“We look forward to being part of ongoing reform of the state’s mining laws to ensure that the sector remains at the forefront of innovation and a sector of choice for employment,” SACOME chief executive officer Rebecca Knol said.

Farmers will now have to live with the consequences of this new mining legislation which in many respects, is more detrimental for landowners and agriculture than the current one. – YP Landowners Group’s Joy Wundersitz

The YP Landowners group say they are “extremely disappointed” the state government rejected each of the amendments out-of-hand without due consideration, repeatedly arguing that the proposed changes would put unnecessary barriers in the way of exploration and mining.

“The intransigence of this government – which has refused to make any meaningful changes to this bill over the past 12 months or so, despite strong opposition from farmers across the state – shows very clearly that the Liberals are first and foremost a pro-mining party, with agriculture coming a poor second,” spokesperson Joy Wundersitz said.

“Farmers will now have to live with the consequences of this new mining legislation which in many respects, is more detrimental for landowners and agriculture than the current one.”