Statutes Amendment (Mineral Resources) Bill
Adjourned debate on second reading.
(Continued from 2 August 2018.)
Mr TRELOAR (Flinders) (12:09): I rise to make a contribution to this debate on the Statutes Amendment (Mineral Resources) Bill 2018, and I recognise, as others have and will in this debate, the importance of this particular bill. I recall debating amendments to the Mining Act way back in 2011, when the minister and I were both relatively new members of parliament. We were very pleased with the work we did, even from opposition at that time, particularly in relation to the environmental benefits that we brought to the act and to the mining industry itself.
As the member for Bragg pointed out, this particular amendment bill has had quite a long gestation period. It was brought to the parliament by the previous government in 2017. In fact, it was debated in this house and progressed through, but it lapsed in the upper house when parliament went into recess before the election in March 2018. Our commitment as Liberals in opposition was that, should we gain government, we would review all the consultation that had occurred under the previous government, reintroduce the bill in a new format or with some changes and, hopefully, address some of the concerns brought up in that time.
I am going to declare an interest, as did the member for Bragg. For many years, I was an active grain grower and farmer on Eyre Peninsula. I still own farming property on Eyre Peninsula. I add that there is a tenement sitting over a couple of the sections that I own, section 20 and part of section 45, Hundred of Mortlock, which are situated about half an hour’s drive north of Port Lincoln.
This bill is a mining bill to enable mining; that is its intention. However, as many of us on this side of the house have discovered, it is about much more than that. It is also about agriculture because the number of tenements sitting over agricultural land in South Australia is now significant, and it is possible that some exploration and even mine development will occur within the agricultural areas of the state. If that were to occur, it would not be the first time in our state’s history that that has happened.
It is well known that a discovery of copper, initially at Kapunda and then at Burra, saved this state from bankruptcy in the early days and, in fact, built half of this fine building we are now sitting in. This chamber was built in the 1880s very much on the back of the wealth that copper brought to this state from Kapunda, Burra and Upper Yorke Peninsula, around the Moonta area in particular. I do not mean to be facetious, but a lot of the names that we see in South Australia and in this place are of Welsh and Cornish derivation.
Mr Ellis interjecting:
Mr TRELOAR: The member for Narungga has just commented on my tie. Given that he has, I indicate that this is the Cornish national tartan.
The Hon. D.J. Speirs: Hear, hear!
Mr TRELOAR: ‘Hear, hear!’ says my Scottish colleague. Quite by accident, I happen to be wearing this today. I digress, but that was well picked up. My great-great-grandfather came here in the 1840s. He worked as a teamster, and he hauled copper ore from Burra to Port Wakefield. The place abounded with mines and miners, but eventually the resource ran out. Obviously, for South Australia, the money ran out because we were not able to finish this parliamentary building. It was not until the 1930s that we were able to finish it.
All the time I have been a member of parliament, this has been bubbling away as an issue, particularly in relation to Eyre Peninsula. As people know, the electorate of Flinders extends from Port Lincoln all the way to the Western Australia border. It does not include the Middleback Ranges—that sits in the member for Giles’ electorate—but historically that has been the foundation of the heavy industry in South Australia. The iron ore mined there really brought about the foundation of the City of Whyalla and generated the steelmaking works, the shipbuilding and all the rest at Whyalla. It is still being mined for both haematite and magnetite, and it looks like going on for quite some time.
Graphite was mined in the early days on Lower Eyre Peninsula, and the Uley graphite mine had several incarnations over the ensuing 100 years, none of which was particularly long lasting or successful. Nevertheless, the resource remains, and I am sure people will come back to have another look at it. There are graphite deposits across other parts of Eyre Peninsula as well, particularly in the east, and gold was also mined in the early days.
Iluka has a mineral sands deposit north-west of Ceduna, and that is particularly lucrative for them; the world market, particularly China, is demanding the mineral sands, the zircon, etc., they are able to dig up out there and exported from Thevenard. We also have the usual rubble pits from which councils source their road metal, and the gypsum and lime go into the agricultural area, so mining has occurred on Eyre Peninsula.
One of the very first public meetings I went to—in fact, I was in campaign mode when I was attempting to win the seat of Flinders for the first time—was a public meeting at the Port Lincoln Town Hall. A company by the name of Centrex had discovered a haematite deposit, I think it was, at Murdinga near Lock and had actually purchased the property from the farmer who owned it.
The family had owned that property since settlement and it was a particularly difficult negotiation. They eventually achieved a price that was reasonable, although I have to say that the landowner was not at all happy about that outcome because, ultimately, he wanted to stay. The interesting thing is that Centrex really disappeared altogether. The property was leased back to a neighbouring farmer to farm, and I understand that it was eventually sold. No mine was developed; despite the proposal and all the angst created around that, nothing developed.
Of particular interest to the people of Port Lincoln was that the Centrex plan was to rail the haematite down the existing rail corridor and put it out over a belt on the wharf at Port Lincoln. Understandably, people were not too happy about their pristine seaside town being filled with red dust. Of course, historically that was the case in Whyalla, but I understand that conditions have changed and that they are now better able to manage that situation.
That brings me to the next big proposal for Eyre Peninsula: the Iron Road magnetite mine at Warramboo. I became familiar with this very soon after being elected. Interestingly, it has been known that there is an iron ore deposit at Warramboo for at least 50 years, maybe longer. Everyone was aware of it and various interested parties came and went over the ensuing decades, but nothing progressed very far until a company by the name of Iron Road obtained the tenement, did some significant core samples and determined a really significant magnetite deposit.
That said, negotiations with the landowners—I believe there are six farmers involved in that area—were difficult and they remain difficult. The farmers were receptive or not to varying degrees, and my understanding is that Iron Road have not purchased any of the properties. They have a proposal for a $5 billion project that includes a mine site, a processing plant (because it is magnetite), and a freight corridor, which will include a train, power and water to a new port facility at Cape Hardy. None of that is in place at this point in time.
I know that the company is still seeking investors, but at this stage they have not been able to source the required capital. Once again, the proposal has left the landowners who sit over the magnetite deposit, as well as those landowners who are within the proposed rail corridor, in a situation of uncertainty, and that is the real issue—the uncertainty that pervades the issue. Iron Road, for the best part, have negotiated and committed as much as they can in the rail corridor. Landowners have been, to varying degrees, receptive or not, so who knows whether or not this proposal will get up. I do not know. I cannot necessarily say that it will get up next year, the year after, in 10 years or in 50 years. Who knows? It may never. It is a big deposit, though.
That brings me to the next point, that is, the development of a port facility. Cape Hardy has been identified as the priority site for Iron Road. Deep water is positioned just south of Port Neill and would be quite capable of loading Cape class vessels relatively close to shore. Within 600 metres, I think, there is 16 metres of water. Farmers have been watching this with interest and looking for the opportunity to piggyback on that development in relation to possible grain exports as well.
I am familiar with the difficulties and angst caused through exploration companies—let’s call them that—approaching landowners and farmers for access. Really, that is the crux of it as far as landowners are concerned—the access. I acknowledge the work done by the previous minister, the current minister and the department in developing this bill and the benefits it will bring to landowners. I will spend a couple of minutes running through those quickly because it is worth people understanding them.
‘Exempt land’ is a term that, for a time, looked like disappearing. It still exists. I will come to this again a little bit later, but for me one of the real bugbears in this bill is that term itself, the definition of ‘exempt land’ and what that might mean. The courts have decided that it means something different from what a landowner might think it would or could mean.
The exempt land legal advice has been increased from $500 to $2,500 per landowner. The exempt land radius for high impact mineral operations has been increased by 50 per cent, from 400 metres to 600 metres, and I think the member for Kavel will have some things to say about that. There is improved access to justice by expanding the courts that hear exempt land matters to include the Warden’s Court and the Supreme Court, as well as the ERD, and there are new rights for landowners to apply for an exempt land determination.
There is increased transparency and access to information. There will be free access to information of what is approved over land through an expanded mining register. In other words, there will be more information and it will be much more available. There will be improved industry and government transparency and accountability through modernised powers for compiling, keeping, providing and releasing materials publicly; updating an expanded public consultation on tenement applications and change of operations; and clearly documented reasons for ministers’ decisions through preparation of assessment reports. There will be publication of directions or orders for noncompliance and annual compliance reports.
A couple of the residents of Eyre Peninsula who have really been at the coalface of this issue over the last half a dozen years or so have commented to me that, in essence, the act itself—and we are talking about the previous act or the existing act—is not that bad but that it is the application of the act that really has become an issue. I think there is a message in that for our government, the minister and probably the department as well, in that the act, for the most part, is quite definitive, and it is beholden on the department itself to ensure that the application of the act is as it should be.
Regarding notice of entry, there will be clear and understandable definitions of operations so that notices to landowners are clear about what activities are proposed and approved. There will be improved notices to reflect the impact and proposed exploration activity. There will be a new notice of intention to apply for a production tenement, with rights to object or progress negotiations, and there will be increased time to enter to commence activities. Minister, that has now stretched out to 42 days, the extension of the time?
The Hon. D.C. van Holst Pellekaan: Yes, six weeks.
Mr TRELOAR: Yes, six weeks or 42 days, that’s right—thank you for that; I knew you were listening—that’s great. There will be increased compliance and enforcement tools, including guaranteed payments to landowners, with new powers to allow government to recover unpaid rent; increased penalties for breaching exempt land and notice of entry obligations, a right to use more extractive minerals through clarification and a right to compensation protected. Also, native title is dealt with. There will be red-tape reduction, commercial flexibility and all those things.
But the crux of the matter for me, and the crux of this bill, is in relation to section 9 and section 9AA. I think landowners right across the state will be familiar with this, and it relates to exempt land. We are proposing amendments to that. In fact, clause 8 amends section 9 to declare land of the following kinds to be exempt land:
land that is lawfully and genuinely used as a yard or garden, as in the electorate of Bragg, which the member so ably described;
land that is lawfully and genuinely used as a cultivated field, plantation, orchard or vineyard for commercial purposes;
land situated within the prescribed distance (as now defined in the section, which varies in relation to whether the operations are low impact or advanced exploration operations or any other authorised operations) of a building or structure used in a place of residence; and
land within 150 metres of a building or structure with a value equal to or exceeding the prescribed amount, as defined in the section, used for an industrial or commercial purpose.
The clause also makes a number of consequential amendments to section 9. As I said, I am personally having some difficulty with this in relation to exempt land and the fact that cultivated land, as indicated in section 9, should and would be exempt. If you were a farmer on Eyre Peninsula, Yorke Peninsula or anywhere else in the state, you would expect that the arable—
Mr Ellis interjecting:
Mr TRELOAR: If you were, and I am; I have already said that, member for Narungga—then that paddock, that field that you would cultivate and crop on an annual basis, would be exempt. It seems that that is not so, that the option is for an exploration company to go to court and have that exempt land waived. It seems to be a no-win situation for farmers, which makes it really difficult and just adds to this uncertainty that we have been talking about.
Section 9AA provides a formal process for a tenement holder to invite an owner of land to enter into an agreement with the tenement holder to waive the benefit of an exemption. If the tenement holder is unable to reach an agreement with the owner of land, they can apply to the ERD Court for an order waiving the benefit of the exemption. As I said, this is the crux of the bill for me. I have had much correspondence from constituents relating to this. It is a vexed issue. It is not entirely solved with the new bill. Most of the bill is the result of a lot of good work over a long period of time, but I do not believe in my own mind that we have addressed properly the quite rightful concerns that landowners have around exempt land and what that might mean for their farming business.
I know there are various hotspots of unrest around the state, let’s call it that. I take the view that each and every farming business in South Australia is of equal value. They are all making a contribution, whether they are at Sandilands or Edillilie or Orroroo or Poochera. They are all making an equal contribution to the state, they are all viable businesses and they all need to be treated with the respect they deserve. With that, I conclude my remarks and look forward to the progression of this bill and the subsequent impact that it might have.