29/06/2018 - 15:30

Prospector wins appeal against minister

29/06/2018 - 15:30

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A three-year battle over an exploration licence in the northern Goldfields has resulted in a win for prospector Andrew Paterson, who appealed against a ruling by the former mines and petroleum minister in favour of listed company Connected IO.

Prospector wins appeal against minister

A three-year battle over an exploration licence in the northern Goldfields has resulted in a win for prospector Andrew Paterson, who appealed against a ruling by the former mines and petroleum minister in favour of listed company Connected IO.

The Supreme Court has quashed the ruling by former minister Sean L’Estrange.

It means Mr Paterson’s application for an exploration licence over land in the Mt Malcolm district near Leonora will go back before current minister Bill Johnston.

The Supreme Court ruled today that the former minister breached the rules of natural justice.

Mr Paterson has established that in making the decision, the minister failed to afford procedural fairness to him, and the decision is invalid as a result,” Justice Janine Pritchard concluded.

She said Mr Paterson, who was represented by law firm Gilbert + Tobin, was not provided with any reasons for the original decision but added there was no obligation on the minister to provide reasons.

Justice Pritchard  added that: “This is a case where it is not possible to be certain about what the minister's reasons for the decision actually were.”

The dispute goes back to March 17 2015, when an exploration licence held by Leopard Resource expired.

Leopard has since morphed into Silicon Valley-based technology company Connected IO.

At 8.30am the next day, Mr Paterson and three other entities – Mineral and Gold Resources of Australia, Darlot Mining Co and Anglogold Ashanti Australia – applied for exploration licences over the land.

Mr Paterson later won a ballot to determine the priority of the applications.

Leopard subsequently lodged an application for another exploration licence over the land and wrote to the minister requesting that he exercise his powers to refuse the other applications in the public interest.

On November 28 2016, the minister refused the new applications, which allowed the Leopard renewal to proceed.

In its letter to the minister, Leopard said it been given incorrect advice by the department about what it was required to do to renew the exploration licence; namely, merely to pay the rent for the following year within 30 days of the date of expiry of the licence.

Its lawyers said that, since acquiring the exploration licence in 2013, Leopard had had spent over $1.2 million on exploration, or six times the minimum expenditure required during that period.

Mr Paterson responded by saying he had paid the application fee and the first year's rent, and that he intended to continue exploration on the land with the aim of developing it into a mining operation.

He submitted that Leopard had achieved little during the tenure of its exploration licence, disputed the amount it had spent, and noted its intention to convert into a technology company, which was at odds with an intention to continue exploration on the land.

A key aspect of Mr Paterson’s appeal was that Leopard representatives supplied new information when they met with the minister’s senior policy advisers.

“In my view, the minister failed to afford procedural fairness to Mr Paterson in that he failed to give Mr Paterson the opportunity to respond to new matters raised by the Leopard officer in the course of the ex parte communications,” Justice Pritchard said.

She explained that: “Relevant, credible and significant new information was provided to the minister in the course of the ex parte communications.”

“That was not information which could obviously have been ignored or put to one side by the minister.

“The failure to provide Mr Paterson with the opportunity to respond to the material which Leopard had not previously raised gave rise to a practical injustice.

“Counsel for Mr Paterson made clear that, among other things, had he had an opportunity, he would have refuted the suggestion that he was an 'opportunistic' applicant by providing (more) information to demonstrate his genuine intention to engage in exploration activities on the land.”

Mr Paterson is technical director of ASX-listed Kingston Resources but pursued this matter in a private capacity.

He said he was very happy with the ruling and was relieved the court case was over.

“Taking any matter to the Supreme Court on your own coin is a serious affair,” Mr Paterson told Business News.

 

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