Fresh approach to mining law

PARTS of WA’s 23-year old mining laws could be amended to streamline land access and Native Title negotiations, if the recommendations of a top-level taskforce are adopted by the Gallop Government.

The temporary amendments, welcomed as a step in the right direction by miners and explorers, aim to remove the backlog of mineral tenement applications.

Almost half the applications come from explorers wishing to convert to a mining lease to avoid surrendering 50 per cent of their tenement in years three and four of the explorer’s lease. In many cases a mining lease is sought to buy the company more time to explore.

Once explorers seek a mining lease, the Native Title Act and its right-to-negotiate provisions automatically kick in, adding to explorers’ frustrations.

The discussion paper recommended an exploration licence with longer or indefinite time limits.

“Forcing the conversion of the lease means the explorers must enter into protracted Native Title negotiations for the purposes of mining, when in fact they really want to continue with exploration where Native Title issues can be fast-tracked,” Deputy Premier Eric Ripper said.

The change to the Mining Act could eliminate 95 per cent of the State’s backlog of 11,000 mineral tenement applications.

“A fresh approach is needed if WA is to balance the Native Title rights of indigenous people and the need for the mining industry to gain access to land.”

Association of Mining and Exploration Companies executive officer Alan Layton said the changes would need a sunset clause because the amendments were only a short-term relief. He said any permanent changes should be achieved by the Mining Industry Liaison Committee, which included industry representatives, rather than the taskforce.

The D’Entrecasteaux Coalition, a conservation group, has grave concerns that the proposed amendments would throw open land access and Native Title negotiations.

“The discussion paper recommended an exploration licence with indefinite time limits,” Coalition spokesman Geoff Evans said.

“This opens up the potential for mining companies to lay claim to vast areas for indefinite periods.”“It will stifle other potential developments, such as eco-tourism.”

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