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Mining Bill impasse as department 'overrules minister'

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The Marshall Government appears all-but back to square one on its controversial Mineral Resources legislation, with the state bureaucracy understood to have overruled a compromise brokered by Mining Minister Dan van Holst Pellekaan to win assent from a group of rebel backbenchers who last year crossed the floor to defer the Bill.

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Five months since the four MPs – who hail from rural or semi-rural electorates – voted with Labor and the crossbench to adjourn further debate on the Bill, negotiations have reached an “impasse”, according to MacKillop MP Nick McBride.

Party sources now say they fear the Bill will “die” altogether, with van Holst Pellekaan’s department understood to have rejected a suite of compromises put forward in negotiations with the group of MPs.

The Bill to amend the mining act follows a review by the former Labor Government, but conservative rural MPs are incensed that the Liberal version denies farmers a right of veto over mining exploration on their land.

“One of the ironies is the only veto that appears to have been played is that of the department,” one insider told InDaily.

Another source said: “Last time I checked, we were actually the Government – and the public service was supposed to support us with regards to our policy positions.”

McBride, a first-term MP who replaced former deputy leader Mitch Williams in the safe south-east seat, said the “whole mining Bill is back in the minister’s hands” after months of “respectful” discussion.

“Negotiations have come to an impasse between the four of us and him,” he told InDaily today.

“He’s basically going to come back to us and see what they can construct… that means everything’s still out there on the table.”

The Bill was originally slated to return to parliament in February, with insiders privately hopeful they would reach a breakthrough when the party-room met for the annual Liberal ‘love-in’ early this year.

But it’s understood while the Minister had accepted compromises put forward, his department has roundly rejected the changes.

“We were hoping for a more fruitful or speedy passage for the Mining Bill,” McBride conceded.

“But those aspirations have been lost, and now we’re basically coming back to a longer process of whatever the department and minister comes back with…

“We’ve had really great communication [with the Minister], we’ve done it very respectfully [but] the department behind him couldn’t meet our expectations. The minister was all on board with some of our issues, but after consulting his department, he couldn’t accommodate them.”

InDaily has sought comment from the Minister’s office.

McBride denied there had been no progress, but conceded “it’s progressed but not with an outcome as yet”.

Fellow first-termers Fraser Ellis, Steve Murray and Dan Cregan joined McBride in crossing the floor in November, while MLCs Terry Stephens and Dennis Hood were expected to do so if it reached the Upper House in the same form.

Fraser Ellis and Nick McBride outside parliament after the November vote. Photo via Twitter

The Bill is a sore point within the party, with Premier Steven Marshall having publicly declared he did not support farmers having a right of mining veto on freehold land.

“I personally don’t support a right of veto… those resources belong to the people of SA, and from time to time you do need to make a decision to access those minerals on behalf of the people of SA,” he told InDaily in December, after he had personally intervened to try and resolve the standoff.

“It’s extremely difficult to balance every issue in the South Australian parliament, and the Mining Act is always going to have a natural friction between farmers and miners [but] we’re happy to consult on other models that exist around Australia.”

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