Securing mining’s future

LEGISLATION flowing from the Technical Taskforce report on Mineral Tenements and Land Title Applications is expected to have a dramatic effect on land access and issues connected to Native Title, still seen by the resources industry as a major stumbling block towards increased greenfields exploration.

Most stakeholders in the Goldfields, however, agree that Native Title is only one of the issues standing in the way of more exploration, amid increasing calls for tax breaks for explorers.

The taskforce’s recommendations includes removing the right to negotiate until there is intent to mine, an idea put forward by the Goldfields Land and Sea Council, which would allow a backlog of 11,000 mineral tenement applications to be processed.

The Council’s manager legal and Native Title, Bertus de Villiers, said exploration internationally had suffered a downturn in the past couple of years, even in countries without Native Title.

“There are a number of companies that have access to land and have reserved their interest,” he said.

“Nobody else is able to take up that land because titles are just not being granted, so they know they’ve covered themselves.

“The right to negotiate should kick in only when there’s a notice of intent to mine. That would reduce effective negotiations to 5 per cent of mining leases, instead of 100 per cent as it stands at the moment.

“We’re as frustrated as the industry that there are thousands of leases in the backlog, and on each of them the right to negotiate applies.”

Mr de Villiers said the current Native Title Act (1993) did not allow the right to negotiate to be deferred.

“If an ILUA (Indigenous Land Use Agreement) is registered as part of a Native Title agreement it may be possible,” he said.

“And with our discussions with the industry and the State to settle some of the claims, we’re pursuing that to see if we can reach those sorts of outcomes.

“At the exploration stage, the heritage concerns of Aboriginal people should be met, and then the titles can be granted.

“An easier way would be to pursue consent outcomes, but in order to do that there has to be an admission that Native Title exists.

“In the Goldfields, the Wongatha claim – which takes in Menzies, Laverton and Leonora – is going to the Federal Court this month, but appeals can take anything up to five years before they are actually settled.

“We’re saying that all parties should agree that Native Title exists and then we define the rights of the various parties, instead of going through this endless process of litigation.

“Most Aboriginal people want mining to progress.”

Dick Scallan, Chair of Eastern Regional Council Department of Minerals and Energy, said if exploration was not stepped up, the mining industry would be in serious decline by 2010.

“We need to find at least two major gold mines every 10 years to maintain our momentum and we haven’t achieved that in the last eight years,” Mr Scallan said.

“Mining companies are putting their exploration money into overseas sites, so there needs to be a way of encouraging exploration spending in Australia and we’ve made proposals to the Prime Minister, which includes tax incentives, to get it going again.”

President of the Kalgoorlie Boulder Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Tom Cole, agreed the downturn in exploration was creating a “black hole” in the mining sector.

“It’s an accepted fact that, from the time an ore body is discovered to when a mine is operational is usually about 15 years, so if we’re going through a period where there’s no new discoveries we’ve got a long lead time before it starts happening again,” Mr Cole said.

“We believe there is a position for the claimants. (We believe) they do have rights over their land, but we want to see it resolved in such a way that we know who the claimants are and that sound negotiations happen.”

Federal Liberal Member for Kalgoorlie Barry Haase is strongly behind the idea of tax breaks for greenfields explorers.

“One of the solutions is for me to achieve more with the Treasurer in developing a beneficial reward for investment in junior explorers, and of course I’ve got a very hard-nosed Treasurer who says if it’s a good and beneficial thing, why isn’t it automatically supported by the private sector,” Mr Hasse said.

“That’s a valid question, and the answer I give is that we are dependent to maintain Commonwealth Government services on revenue, and that revenue is going to come in spades from greenfield development.”

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