Statutes Amendment (Mineral Resources) Bill

Second Reading

I rise to speak to the Statutes Amendment (Mineral Resources) Bill 2018. This is a bill to amend the Mining Act 1971, the Mines and Works Inspection Act 1920 and the Opal Mining Act 1995.

It is fair to say that the bill has had a very long gestation period. Indeed, it was the subject of an extensive review by the former government, and a bill introduced by them in similar terms to this lapsed at the end of the former government's parliament before the last election. That may have come as a surprise to many. Indeed, I attended the University of Adelaide for a special meeting, which had been arranged to consider the new provisions that were going to apply if the bill had passed the previous parliament, only to find that a number of them thought that it had and were progressing with the education session and instructions as though it had.

I was able to point out to them that it had not passed the parliament, that therefore it was an important exercise to still discuss aspects of it, because there had clearly been a large amount of work done, and that, if we were successful at the next election, in forming government it would obviously be a matter we would give attention to and need to look at it with fresh eyes to review aspects of it that we considered inadequate or unsatisfactory. I would like to place on the record the work of the Minister for Energy and Resources in making sure that, in retabling the bill in the new parliament with some amendments to the previous bill, it was then allowed to sit for some months, from its introduction in August, to enable people to still make a further contribution if they saw fit.

I think it is fair to say, without going through a number of the submissions that were made, that perhaps the most significant area of request for reform was for those who were the owners of rural property that had a higher growth capacity and were usually in the business of cultivating a valuable crop for South Australia, and they were active in ensuring that they had their say on what further reform should occur in relation to this legislation. I thank the minister for taking the time to consider that. I think other members in the parliament, of course, were approached, as I was, about their plight and their claimed resolution as to how they should be protected in those circumstances.

I also want to place on the record the commitment of the minister to a second tranche of review in relation to the operational aspects of how this broad legislation would work in the amended form for our new mining laws that are to apply. That is important because there are some practical issues that still need to have some resolution to the extent of how they are actually going to work. If there is a capacity given for access to land, wherever it is in South Australia, to have the opportunity to explore the identification of a reserve in this regard—whether or not it is worth digging up is another matter—we need to know operationally how these things are going to work, especially with the new definitions and modifications proposed in the bill.

I would like to declare, before I say anything further, that, yes, I am the owner of residential, commercial and rural property in South Australia. I am pretty confident that it is unlikely that BHP is going to knock on my residence in the seat of Bragg and say, 'We want to dig up your plot to find some mystery gold underneath it.' If they do, I will talk to them about reasonable compensation, no doubt. In any event, commercial development of property, operations of existing businesses and so on, are actually all covered in the current law but are being protected in this further regime of amendments.

The rural land I own, luckily for me, is on Kangaroo Island and, as most people know, Kangaroo Island is a rock with a bit of dirt on top. I have to say that over the years plenty of people have tried to dig and find silver, gold and all sorts of things; alas, there appears to be nothing there, so I do not expect that I will have some company followed up by BHP come and establish an exploration or seek the right to explore and ultimately dig in relation to that property. I do accept that there are a number, perhaps in a fairly limited space geographically in South Australia; nevertheless, that is very important to them, and I would like to be clear that our expectation as a government, and I know it is the minister's personal commitment, is to ensure that that continues.

I would like to flag a couple of matters that have been raised; one is the question of whether the owner of a property should have the right to access mineral rights, whether under a house, under a building, under a shed, under a sheep yard or anywhere. This is a matter that is very clear in our law in South Australia and has been for almost 50 years—that is, an owner does not own what is under the ground and does not have the opportunity, if there is something valuable there, to dig it up and keep the proceeds.

We can go into the reasons for whether or not it was a good idea by former premier Dunstan to change the law. The fact is that it happened and that those opportunities were removed. The gate is open, the sheep are out and I do not see them being rounded up or it being changed. Because some states in the United States of America have the right to own everything under the ground, sometimes people have the impression that that should be restored here in South Australia. I do not see that happening in Australia. Governments all around the country have taken over the right to have that.

The reason it is important to remember that it is here, and I do not see that changing anytime soon, is that the public now owns this resource. It is then a question of in what circumstances should they have the opportunity to exploit it and for governments to operate the licensing and process that are going to apply for that to happen fairly and for the protection of other people's existing interests, including farming and cultivation interests. I do not think that there is any easy answer to those who would like to have complete control of that.

The next phase is a veto scenario so that the owner of the property can say, 'I don't get any access to this money, the proceeds from a resource, and I don't want to be in a situation where anyone else gets access to it.' The ultimate denial of access to a public asset is something that I think the rest of the people of South Australia, quite reasonably, have a right to have explored. The act, with some new initiatives under this government, will provide some protections around that and forums where, hopefully, those matters can be justly and equitably decided. The opportunity to say, 'I don't have any access to this public asset and I'm not going to let anybody else have access to it,' is not something that we can justifiably accept.

In the course of reviewing this matter, I have looked at other jurisdictions, including the Western Australian model. By way of a tiny bit of history, my mother's side of the family was involved in the establishment of the Geraldton mines in Western Australia. From time to time, I have had some interest in mining in Western Australia, not because I have any interest in the mine, I might add—unless my superannuation fund manager has some mining shares in my superannuation portfolio, I do not have any direct interest in mining companies or as a shareholder—but because I have had a personal interest in the history.

They have done it slightly differently in Western Australia, but they do not, in my view, under their model, address the fundamental question: should the landowner have access to the proceeds of the resource or, more importantly for this debate, to allow the exclusive right to veto the opportunity for anyone else to have access to it? It is not going to remedy the complaint and that is the reality of what we are faced with.

The detail of the bill has been traversed by our minister and I will not go through it, but I may have some comment to make in relation to any committee process. What I would like to say is in relation to two other matters. Firstly, I place on the record the importance to me of representing the people of Bragg. The electorate houses the first mine in South Australia—at Glen Osmond. I will just find the history of that—

—which is the silver and lead mines. Some might know this. Perhaps the noisy member from Mawson might know this. In early days, it was mistaken as having a copper resource, but he might not have known that. I presume he knows most things, but in any event—

Thank you, sir. Nevertheless, it was and remains, of course, of national historical significance. The Glen Osmond mines comprise Wheal Gawler, Wheal Watkins and the Glen Osmond mine itself. In refreshing my memory about these mines, I only just noticed that one of them was actually located on Chapman Crescent. How about that? Obviously, it was the wrong Chapman because I did not get any interest in that one either.

I make the point that it is of national significance. It was the first metalliferous mine in Australia and, very importantly for the colony back in the 1830s and 1840s, it was the first producer of mining product for export. It was the first metalliferous export from Australia, so it was a very important mine in the history of South Australia. When one looks at the history, relative to the act we are opening up and amending, I notice that the land at Glen Osmond was first surveyed in 80-acre sections and sold in the late 1830s. According to the laws at the time, the mineral rights belonged to the purchasers and the boundaries of the properties would become the boundaries of the separate mines, so you could dig up to the boundary line.

We have since learned a lot about the coexistence of enterprises and their need to prevail and be protected. There has been an area of mining law developed in South Australia to ensure that, where possible, the interruption to other enterprises or neighbouring pursuits, for example, are protected from pollution and the like.

The other matter I want to mention because it is very contemporary at the moment is Mintabie opal mining.  The member for Giles is the current member under the boundaries. Nevertheless, I am aware that the minister has a very good working knowledge of and understands what happened with the Mintabie township. Some would know that it was granted an opportunity to continue to operate as a town and a mine under our APY legislation back in the early 1980s because all the surrounding land was identified, for the purposes of the APY Act, to be handed back to the management of the local Indigenous Anangu families, etc. It was given a significant lease of 40 years or so to operate under the management of the government of the day, not the local governance of the lands. That lease expired, and sometime in 2017, I think, the then government indicated that they were not going to February 2018, so just before the election. After some inquiry, the then government indicated they would not be extending the lease and it would therefore transfer to—not be restored to, because they never had it—the general management of local governance.

I mention this because there have been around 40 years of mining at Mintabie. I think there are still 30 or so permanent residents in the town. I know of Mintabie because it used to be where people would sometimes hide out if they did not want to be served with a subpoena—usually mine—for a witness to attend. Nevertheless, I also recognise it for its very important role in opal mining in South Australia. According to the investigations by the Department for Energy and Mining, in a report they published in August this year, Mintabie has:

…an area totalling less than two square kilometres and has [of course] been intensively mined. A conservative estimate of the area of greatest prospectivity within the Mintabie Precious Stones Field is 20 square kilometres. Within the 20 km² region of high prospectivity, the Mintabie opal field will support Mining for 400 years…

That is not insignificant. The report further identifies:

The total value of the opal mined at Mintabie to 2016 has been estimated by the South Australian Government to be $421M. An area-based analysis concludes that this is less than 10% of the total contained opal at Mintabie. The opal resource in Mintabie, including the opal already found is therefore estimated to have a raw opal value of over $4B.

The reason I mention this is that, as some will know, there have been some calls for assistance. In fact, the Hon. Graham Gunn, a former member of our parliament, has been on the phone—you do not usually need a phone because you can hear him from the West Coast. He was very concerned about the future of the town and its people. Having represented a lot of the area, he of course understands the significance of the opportunities in Mintabie for South Australia and, in this case, opal mining.

If you pick up the paper today, you will see that concerns have been raised by at least one resident—I think they are the principal or deputy principal at the local school—about acts of vandalism. Concerns have been raised by the local community that there may be some attempts to almost run these people out of town. I do not know whether that is the case; the media report seems to indicate that attempts are being made to ensure that the people who may be responsible are being investigated, and I think some arrests have been made.

The fact is that, whatever the governance arrangements in respect of this area, people need to be able to live in their homes free of threats, property damage, assault or harm—and in regard to that we rely heavily on members of the South Australian police force who are on the APY lands. It is of absolute importance to the government that the Mintabie area and township continue to be protected, and we will make sure they are.