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Minerals agreement welcomed

REPRESENTATIVES from Western Australia’s mining industry, Native Title claimants and the State Government reached an agreement last week that many pundits say should speed up explorers’ access to land in the Goldfields.

The agreed heritage protection template – between the Goldfields Land and Sea Council, the State Government, the Chamber of Minerals and Energy and AMEC– covers 300,000 square kilometres of the mineral rich region.

Under the agreement, Indigenous concerns will be dealt with up front, so those involved are not put in the position of having to object to the tenement being granted in order to get a fair hearing of their concerns.

Minter Ellison senior associate Mark Gregory said the agreement was a reasonably good outcome but added that it would depend on how it worked in practise.

“Whether explorers and prospectors, or Aboriginal parties, refuse to sign the heritage agreement in large numbers, remains to be seen,” Mr Gregory said.

The main criticism of the agreement at this stage is that an opportunity has been lost to prepare a shorter, simpler and more straightforward agreement, he said.

Deputy Premier Eric Ripper, who is responsible for Native Title, said the agreement struck a balance between the interests of Indigenous people in protecting their heritage and the economic development of the State.

Goldfields Land and Sea Council executive director Brian Wyatt welcomed the agreement and said it was a tangible example of how negotiations could lead to mutually beneficial outcomes.

The agreement is expected to be followed by similar moves in the Pilbara, Mid West and South West, with negotiations continuing in the Central Desert and Kimberley regions.

Chamber of Minerals and Energy of WA chief executive Tim Shanahan said the agreement, if implemented, demonstrated that agreed outcomes could be achieved to meet the needs of all parties in Indigenous affairs.

The agreement’s template was developed by the Heritage Protection Working group, formed after a taskforce recommended sweeping reforms of land access procedures to clear a backlog of 11,000 mineral tenement applications in WA.

The WA Government said that, in line with other taskforce recommendations, it had committed more than $2.8 million over four years in a program to recruit 11 land access officers.

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