Bills: Leading Practice in Mining

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Published Wednesday, November 1, 2017 | Share:


Mr BELL (Mount Gambier) (20:05): I rise this evening to make a brief contribution to the Statutes Amendment (Leading Practice in Mining) Bill. It could quite easily be called the minor adjustment in mining bill or the tinkering with the existing mining bill. I remind members in this house that when you look at the floor of this parliament in this house, we have wheat, barley and grapes as symbols of what this state was built on.

One of the issues that I have with the bill is I do not think it goes anywhere near far enough to protect the rights of farmers. When you look at some of the purchasing power and some of the equity that some of these mining companies have versus farmer Jones, who is third generation or has been handed down the family farm, you see a power imbalance that I was hoping the bill would address.

With exploration licences covering 80 per cent of prime agricultural land on the Yorke and Eyre peninsulas, and a similar amount in the South-East, the area I represent, you see how this review of the Mining Act has raised tension between farmers and mining once again. I do not believe that it is strengthening the rights of farmers to the level that I would like to see nor is it making clear their rights under the act.

I will give some credit where it is due. Obviously, there is an increase from $500 to $2,500 for landowner advice and assistance. As I understand, that is for exempt land matters. I think that figure needs to be increased to $5,000. Anyone who has actually sat down with a serious lawyer for any period of time will understand that money has a different concept from those individuals than it does from you and me. Again, if we were serious about leading practice, we would make sure that farmers were feeling like there was some legal support there that was meaningful and not tokenistic or minor.

As I see it, we have a major problem that nobody wants to talk about, that is that the Department of State Development is both the promoter and the regulator of mining. This could be sorted out very quickly with a mining ombudsman, an ombudsman who can impartially look at every application, look at every concern and, from an independent viewpoint, make a decision that could be binding, a decision that in some circumstances the farmer is not going to like. No matter what compensation, no matter what level of bending or adjusting a mining company may be prepared to go to, it will never be far enough for that farmer. Having an independent arbitrator make a ruling gives me some comfort that there is no bias or perceived bias. Again, the problem is that the Department of State Development (DSD) is both the promoter and the regulator of mining. If we were serious about leading practice we would have a serious look at that.

In terms of primary production, again I point to the floor and what this state was built on. We do not see mining operations woven into the carpet. I am not opposed mining. I am not saying that we should ban mining in South Australia. However, I think there are improvements that could be made to the act to make sure that there was an independent arbitrator of contentious decisions and decisions that create anxiety and stress amongst communities.

I think I will look at Grain Producers SA's Wade Dabinett, who I know pretty well, and quote a little bit from him. He says that the:

...exploration process was not only a huge disturbance to farmers' businesses but also their health and emotional well-being.

Some people who live in the leafy suburbs or parts of the CBD have no idea what that sentence means, but when you are out on a farm, talking to a third-generation farmer who has mining activities potentially around them—they do not know, because it does not occur in a short period of time—that does impact on their business, it impacts on their health and it impacts on their emotional wellbeing. I will finish off the quote from Mr Dabinett:

They say in the discussion paper that it could take a 1000 exploration efforts or operations before you get one mine, so that's a massive amount of disturbance to people who are trying to run an existing business...

There needs to be greater consideration to the land owners about what that disturbance of exploration is actually causing, not just physical and financial distress on businesses but emotional as well.

That is where we do not think the balance has been anywhere near right between landowners and mining, and I concur 100 per cent with those comments.

If we look at the South-East, which is an area I know a little bit better than Yorke Peninsula, which I visit quite regularly—in fact, every Christmas, because it is a beautiful place in the state—the uncertainty around fracking in the South-East has caused massive community unrest and discussion, I suppose, in that area.

A policy that I put forward at a different time and with a party was a 10-year ban on fracking in the South-East. It is a policy that I stand by because until you have social licence or community consent, even though it is difficult to measure, you are asking for trouble going into areas with an attitude of, 'We've got all the rights, and pretty much we can do what we like.'

I know the lobbying power of the mining companies. If I compare that with the lobbying abilities of the farming community, I can tell you which one wins out 1,000:1. I have experienced that firsthand over a number of years now on my stance on no fracking in the South-East of South Australia. Just to add to that, we had a parliamentary inquiry on fracking in the South-East which specifically said, 'Until you gain a social licence, those activities should not be occurring down there.'

In conclusion, I will finish by saying that this is not leading practice in mining legislation; it is minor amendments to an existing bill, but it does not go anywhere near far enough. If we were serious about this, we would actually be talking about a mining ombudsman. We would not be kowtowing to lobby groups, who I know are deadset against that type of intervention. Why? Because it would provide a fair adjudicator on many of these decisions, which are contentious.

Yet I say to them that it is actually probably the one thing we could implement that would progress mining activities in this state because they will not get bogged down with individuals who, quite rightly, are going to protect their patch and who, no matter what compensation is offered, no matter what level of service is instigated, are never going to budge—and I understand that 100 per cent. But we are not talking about that, and that does sadden me to some degree.

It is unlikely that I will be supporting the bill. I do not think it goes anywhere near far enough and I do find it absolutely incredible that next week in my diary I have a consultation in the South-East looking at this bill, yet here we are debating the second reading and, if the government wanted to, they could push it right the way through tonight, so I am wondering what this is all about. Why is there a rush all of a sudden? Why do I have consultation in the South-East next week, yet I am here with the cart, which seems well before the horse in this situation? With those comments, I will conclude.