Mining (Protection of Exempt Land From Mining Operations) Amendment Bill

Adjourned debate on second reading.

(Continued from 24 September 2014.)

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY (Leader of the Opposition) ( 18:00 :06 ): I rise on behalf of the opposition to speak to the Mining (Protection of Exempt Land From Mining Operations) Amendment Bill. By way of brief explanation, the current legal arrangements with regard to proponents exploring on freehold property are as follows.

The Mining Act currently provides for landowners to enter into agreements with exploration and/or mining companies to allow for activities on their freehold property. If an agreement is unable to be reached and ongoing entry is refused, the exploration or mining company can initiate ERD Court proceedings. Landowners and neighbours in close proximity to the proposed land in question can respond and participate in those proceedings.

If the exploration or mining operator satisfies the ERD Court that any adverse effects of the proposed activities on the respondent landowner can be appropriately addressed by the imposition of conditions upon that exploration or mining operator, including the payment of compensation to the landowner, the ERD Court can allow the activities and impose conditions, even if the landowner remains unsatisfied. If the court is not satisfied that concerns can be appropriately addressed, then it can refuse the application.

The bill that we see today intends that any person or body can lodge objections in the ERD Court to a proposed agreement between an exploration or mining company and the landowner. This would enable landowners, neighbours or any third party at all to initiate proceedings or to respond in the ERD Court. The bill also requires that, before an exploration or mining operator can enter into an agreement with the landowner, the mining operator must, by written notice, provide owners or occupiers of adjacent land with notification of the proposed agreement, publish the notice in the local newspaper and notify the department of the proposed agreement, and the department must publish notice of the proposed agreement and also advice as to the right of any person to lodge an objection.

There is also a provision in the bill that provides a two-week objection period for landowners, neighbours and third parties to object to the proposal and initiate proceedings in the ERD Court. This bill also establishes five criteria which must be taken into account by the ERD Court in determining whether the proposed agreement can proceed. These are the expected length of the exploration program or the life of the mining operations; the likely effect of the proposed operations on future land uses; the possible social, environmental and economic impacts of the proposed operations; the extent to which rehabilitation of the land is likely to be required; and the relative abundance of minerals being sought on the land in question compared to other parts of the state.

This bill would provide opportunities for those opposed to mining of any sort and for any reason to significantly delay or prevent future exploration and mining operations. The ERD Court would be completely overwhelmed by objections from anyone who chooses to consider him or herself to be an affected third party. The ERD Court would have to explain itself with regard to each of the five proposed criteria to every single objector.

On a side note, I expect that the ERD Court would already have considered these five areas and others as and when they are relevant. This bill would allow objectors the opportunity to both initiate ERD Court proceedings and respond to them. Very clear rights for all directly affected interest groups already exist. I do believe there is room for improvement with regard to how the Mining Act deals with access to freehold land for exploration and mining, but I indicate that we will be opposing this specific bill.

However, I put on the record that that our shadow minister, Dan van Holst Pellekaan, in another chamber, has spoken to the Hon. Mark Parnell and indicated that we are somewhat attracted to some parts of this bill, but we could not support it in its entirety today. The Hon. Mark Parnell said that he wished to bring this to a vote today, so that is why we are not in a position to support it.

But we have particular sympathy for some close neighbours to land that has exploration or mining on it and we believe there is room for improvement with regard to how exploration and mining companies interact with neighbours and landowners. Recently, I had an opportunity to visit the West Coast and I visited a family who are likely to be significantly impacted by the big Iron Road mine near Warramboo.

I met the Murphy family and sat in their lounge room and kitchen and just talked to them. The biggest issue they have is with the uncertainty, and it is interesting. I spoke to 'Spud'—because all Murphys are called 'Spud'—his actual Christian name escapes me, but he is roughly my age. His father lives in the local town and he said to Peter Treloar, our local member, he has known there has been iron ore there all his life, and he doubted whether they would ever get to mine it in his lifetime. But every few years there has been some activity in and around this particular, quite large, resource.

I think that is where lies one of the real problems: the uncertainty of the Murphy family—with three young boys, all home on the farm and wanting to expand but not really knowing what the next move would be. So, I think there are some real opportunities for this parliament, and I note the Hon. Robert Brokenshire said earlier in a contribution in the previous bill that he is having his right to farm bill redrafted, and I would like to put on the record that we are very concerned about the interaction between agriculture and mining, but the two have co-existed in this state for pretty much the entire life of the state, and the Liberal Party wants to make sure that continues. We do not want to see one group disadvantaged at the expense of another.

We are sympathetic to looking at any changes that can improve that relationship, but we just do not see that this bill that the Hon. Mark Parnell is promoting today is the right way forward. We have nearly three years before the next general election, and we will be putting out some policies prior to that next election that we hope we will have an opportunity to work on with the Hon. Mark Parnell (who sometimes has reasonable and sensible suggestions) and certainly the Hon. Robert Brokenshire and other members in this chamber because it is important that we get the balance right.

They are important industries, and we need to make sure we can support both of them. With those few words I indicate that we cannot support the bill we have before us today, but we are prepared to continue to work with all members of this chamber and, in fact, all members of the state parliament, to come up with a regime that provides support and confidence and certainty for both industries.

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