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Mining reform in a hole as minister digs in on veto

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Mining Minister Dan van Holst Pellekaan has dug in over his opposition to giving landholders a right of veto over exploration companies, telling an industry conference he takes “absolutely full responsibility” for the Marshall Government’s mining reforms falling into indefinite limbo.

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InDaily yesterday revealed negotiations with rural MPs within his own ranks – who last year crossed the floor of parliament to delay debate on the contentious legislation – had hit an “impasse”, with a compromise agreed to by the minister subsequently over-ruled by his Mining and Energy department.

Insiders say the Bill could be doomed, as van Holst Pellekaan leaves it sitting on the notice paper indefinitely, effectively putting the ball back in the dissidents’ court.

In November, first-term Liberals Nick Bride, Steve Murray and Dan Cregan joined Narungga MP Fraser Ellis in opposing the legislation, which denies farmers a right of veto over mining exploration on their land.

But van Holst Pellekaan today affirmed he was not for turning on that point, telling the Paydirt conference at the Adelaide Hilton: “One thing we will not do is offer landholders a right of veto over the resources below their land which have always belonged to all South Australians.”

And he insisted the legislation would not be compromised by stealth, saying: “We’re not going to go for a right of veto in disguise – nothing like that.”

“The surface of the land, freehold land, belongs without any doubt to the people who have a legal right to it [but] the people who have a legal right to the minerals and the petroleum below the land is the public of SA – South Australian taxpayers,” he said.

“I take full responsibility – absolutely full responsibility – for where our government is going with regard to this issue,” he said.

“The department gives me very, very good advice and, in complete respect to the department, I don’t take every little bit of it… I take most of it.

“But I take full responsibility for the decisions that we make.”

He signalled the push for reform wasn’t over, despite the Bill being effectively in indefinite hiatus, saying: “We’re going to push forward with this to the very, very best of our ability.”

“It’s my personal objective to get this as right as possible,” he said, noting that “the intent for a thorough review of the mining act exists without a doubt”.

“To be quite blunt, it’s almost an ongoing process – like painting the Sydney Harbour Bridge… we’d almost need to restart a review before it’s finished,” he said.

But he warned the industry insiders gathered that managing expectations was a major challenge, saying: “It would be foolish for anybody to think an independent review is going to provide recommendations everybody would like.”

He said it was disappointing but not “a catastrophe” that he couldn’t get his legislation through parliament, but insisted “we have a challenge to make sure we get it done right” for all stakeholders.

“If we don’t get it right in the eyes of landholders we’ll do the resources industry a great disservice,” the minister said.

But he insisted “we have no appetite for a right of veto”.

“We’re not going to give the right of veto to anybody to stop mining, but we will continue to work through the very difficult task of finding ways to improve the land access challenge, because that challenge is only going to get greater over time, as your industry finds more and more resources in the higher rainfall areas.”

Warren Pearce, Chief Executive Officer of the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies, said the industry was “disappointed to hear of the shelving of the South Australian Mining Act amendments by Hon Dan van Holst Pellekaan”.

He said in a statement that the latest delay after “three years of consultation on much needed reforms… is a backwards step for SA”.

“However, it is better that these amendments were shelved than for the Government to have caved to a range of concessions that would hinder exploration and the future development of the mining industry,” he said.

“After three years of consultation on the Mining Bill in good faith it is frustrating that the Government is being held hostage by four members of parliament.

“The reason the Act was being amended has not changed – it needs to be updated and streamlined.”

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