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The Legal Elite: Hunt mines skills base

MICHAEL Hunt is bemused by his Legal Elite accolade, a little sensitive that it could be just another unwelcome sign of old age.

The ‘number one mining lawyer’ tag attaches awkwardly to one not entirely at ease with the general legal clique, although, like the man himself, this is a little tongue-in-cheek for a member of the Law Society Golf Club.

Nonetheless, Mr Hunt appears to struggle not to grin at the additional pointer to an enviable national and international reputation in WA mining law.

Despite this longer term recognition, and a 1990 Top-50 commercial lawyer ranking in The Bulletin, Mr Hunt dismisses his legal CV as “boring”.

A glance at his career presents a different picture, however.

A senior partner of boutique firm Hunt & Humphry, Mr Hunt started out in mining law as a protege of Rory Argyle at Parker & Parker.

Already a solicitor, but drawn in by the high risk and entrepreneurial magnetism of mining types and their industry, Mr Hunt grabbed the chance to become one of Perth’s first dedicated mining lawyers during the ’70s nickel boom.

David Malone, another Argyle understudy, but specialising in oil and gas, is now a senior partner of Allens Arthur Robinson in Sydney.

With 20 others Mr Hunt soon founded the Australian Mining and Petroleum Lawyers Association, now known as AMPLA Limited, and of which he was president in the mid 80s.

In 1983 he reviewed WA’s mining laws, and a few years later those of Papua New Guinea, but public recognition of his specialist knowledge also grew from numerous academic papers he published, and from his lectures at the University of Western Australia.

There his crusading resulted in the university introducing dedicated mining law courses.

His extensive textbook and issues publications include Halsbury’s laws of Australia: energy & resources, Butterworth’s Minerals and Petroleum Law, Mining Law in Western Australia, Native Title and Aboriginal Heritage Issues Affecting Oil and Gas Exploration and Production, Opposition to Mining Projects by Indigenous Peoples and Special Interest Groups, and Working with Native Title.

An honours graduate from the University of WA, Mr Hunt first contemplated a diplomatic career, but after a Canberra interview and offer, shied away from ever being labelled a public servant.

Happy with his choice, and a subsequent three decades in mining law, his comprehensive list of highlights include working on WA’s major iron ore and gold developments, establishing Australia’s first boutique commercial law firm Collison and Hunt, and drafting PNG’s mining laws.

One of his specialties – access to land – remains the biggest issue for the industry.

While acknowledging no quick fix, the AMPLA representative on the WA Government’s Mining Industry Liaison Committee is not hesitant on solutions.

“A more proactive attitude towards negotiations – one leaving out the State and land councils,” he said.

Delays in wardens’ courts also remain a frustration to the WA mining industry, but as with other issues, Mr Hunt is positive about the State’s perspective.

“The government has reacted well over the past 15 years, amending the Mining Act 45 times,” he said.

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