Mining Amendment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill
Debate resumed from 2 April.
Mr ADRIAN PICCOLI (Murrumbidgee) [10.04 a.m.]: The main thrust of the Mining Amendment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill relates to opal mining and opal prospecting in western New South Wales. The bill contains some provisions relating to mining leases, which I will address later. The Lightning Ridge area is a fascinating area and I suggest to anyone who has not visited the area to do so. It is unique in New South Wales, probably in Australia, and although I have not travelled everywhere in the world I suggest it is probably unique in the world. The interaction between opal mining and opal prospecting with Western Lands leaseholders has been an area of dispute for probably as long as opal mining and farming have co-existed in western New South Wales. The bill seeks to address some of those issues.
For a long time landholders have argued strongly that their rights have been impinged by the actions of miners, and miners have argued the opposite, saying that they hold certain rights to prospect for opal, to eke out a living, to find that elusive opal that will propel them to instant riches. The two arguments are based on competing but legitimate interests. It is incumbent upon this Parliament to introduce legislation and regulation to make that co-existence a little easier. However, having all the legislation and regulation in the world is not the only way to solve the problem; it can be solved by the actions of the miners and the farmers in western New South Wales. Both groups have to act responsibly, and mostly they do. It is unfortunate that the small minority do the wrong thing, and that causes enormous problems and angst. I commend the Government for introducing this bill; the landholders have been asking for it for a long time. Perhaps my only criticism of the bill is that it has taken so long to be introduced. Nonetheless, it has been introduced and is to be dealt with today. The Opposition will not oppose the bill.
I turn now to the detail of the bill. The bill deals with opal prospecting on Western Lands Commission leases, introduces the concept of access management plans, and deals with miners, prospectors and fossickers entering Western Lands leases where people conduct farming businesses. The bill goes part of the way to resolving the concerns of landholders, but many have said to me that it does not go far enough. One significant issue for landholders is the degradation of their land by miners and fossickers entering upon that land. It is one thing to have a prospecting area or mining lease upon which one can conduct business activities, but getting from a public road to that area has caused problems for landholders in the past. The legislation deals with that issue to some degree by making it a requirement that leaseholders and prospectors use existing tracks and roads where possible as the most direct route to their mining title. It is quite sensitive country out there, and people driving all over the place causes a problem environmentally, and to some degree it can inhibit the ability of landholders to conduct their farming businesses. So the Opposition supports that measure in the bill.
The bill places restrictions on what can be done on lease areas with opal prospecting licences. Previously one could do virtually anything, but at least the bill prescribes, to a certain extent, what one is able to do on those lease areas. Farmers have been concerned about what sorts of activities are undertaken on the licence areas. We certainly support that part of the bill. The bill also requires that fossickers gain the consent of landholders prior to entering their land, something that landholders have been requesting for a long time. Landholders have raised concerns, and I think very legitimate concerns, about the ability of virtually anybody to come onto their land on the basis that they are fossickers. Landholders would like even stricter requirements, particularly for the identification required by fossickers and opal prospectors, but at least this bill goes some way towards dealing with those problems. It is a difficult for landholders from a personal and family safety point of view to have people traipsing across their property, as it impacts on their ability to manage their farming enterprises.
Another part of the bill that we support relates to the restriction on mining in certain designated areas of an opal prospecting area for environmental or farming purposes. It is important that we are environmentally sensitive in everything that we do on our land in New South Wales, and opal prospecting is no exception. I hope that both farmers and miners are consulted when determining the areas of restrictions on mining. I hope that the consultation is comprehensive and not just with landholders or just with miners because, as I said, in many ways it is very much a balance of competing interests.
Another concern to landholders relates to their liability if a person is injured on their property, particularly a person who is a fossicker or an opal miner. The bill clarifies the liability of titleholders to compensate a landholder and provides landholders with immunity from the activities of titleholders under the Mining Act. The Opposition supports this amendment because it protects those landholders who are going about their business of farming. Farmers have been very concerned in the past that they may be liable for any injury that may be incurred by persons entering their property to whom they have not given permission to enter or whom they do not know, and that such persons may make a claim against insurance held by the landholder. For that reason we certainly support the limiting of that liability. Those are the most significant amendments in terms of opal mining,
I turn briefly to the amendments concerning subleases of more than 100 hectares, which, under this bill, will require ministerial approval. I understand that the Department of Mineral Resources and the Minister's office have consulted quite extensively with the New South Wales Minerals Council—which I certainly support—and they have made certain commitments to the New South Wales Minerals Council. Also, one of the amendments foreshadowed by the Government will deal further with the concerns raised by the New South Wales Minerals Council. Perhaps a more appropriate time to deal with that particular part of the bill will be when those amendments are introduced.
As Opposition spokesman on mineral resources, I have consulted broadly on the impacts of this bill because our responsibility is to consider the views of our constituents and to consult as broadly as possible to make sure that the bill is supported by all stakeholders. Perhaps the person most able to comment on the balance between the landholder and mining interests is the local member, who is the honourable member for Barwon, Ian Slack-Smith. He has taken a great deal of interest in this bill.
Mr Milton Orkopoulos: Where is he?
Mr ADRIAN PICCOLI: I will tell the honourable member for Swansea that if he had an electorate the size of the member for Barwon's electorate, he too would be out in his electorate trying to get around that very large area. The member for Barwon is satisfied with the contents of the bill. He has made the point, as I have made the point, that there is a need to balance the competing interests between landholders and miners. We have also consulted with the Lightning Ridge Miners Association, which has indicated that it has concerns about some parts of the bill, but that it is generally happy with it. Since becoming the shadow Minister for Mineral Resources, I have been receiving correspondence from Penne and Tas Clarke, who I know have also contacted the Minister. They have made comments to me that I would like to put on the record. In an email dated 10 April, they say:
The Legislative amendments that will require fossickers to seek landholder permission before entering land is an imperative change.
We believe that we should have the same rules applying to our land as to the rest of the State. So we support that concept wholeheartedly. As managers of our environment and business we simply must have control over who enters and when.
Further in their email they say:
Regarding Landholder immunity for claims I really applaud this idea. It is something we have been most worried about. In this day and age people do look for someone to sue and I don't want to be in the firing line when they hurt themselves on their claim or whilst fossicking.
The comments of Penne and Tas Clarke, together with comments from other landholders, suggest that this bill is certainly heading in the right direction in that regard. I have spoken at some length about the proposed legislation with both Susan Streeter and John Tucker from the New South Wales Minerals Council, particularly in relation to coal mining leases, but also in terms of the opal mining issues in western New South Wales. The New South Wales Farmers Association obviously has taken a great interest in this, particularly from the perspective of landholders. The association has consulted very broadly, and I congratulate Joe Sullivan from the New South Wales Farmers Association on the work he has done, not just on this bill but on many issues involving opal mining in the Lightning Ridge and White Cliffs area. He has communicated with me on a number of occasions and I know that he has consulted with the Minister and the Department of Mineral Resources.
Louise Crites-Foster, a landholder who has written on many occasions to the Minister and to me, is concerned that this bill does not go far enough. Generally, she is supportive of the bill, which goes some way towards giving to landholders the rights that they want. However, she is concerned that it does not go far enough. I commend her for the research that she has done in that area. On 18 April Louise sent me a detailed letter in which she commented on the bill. I would be more than happy to give her a job if ever she wanted to work with me, as she has a wealth of knowledge in relation to this issue. I quote from her letter, which states:
The proposed amendments do not reflect a commonsense and practical approach to solving difficult issues. They reflect the Governments commitment to top-down style of resource management. The DMR is shifting decision making away from the Minister, who must consult with stakeholders and consider the environment, to the Director-General, who need not consult with anyone or consider the environment ...
It is recognised within the local mining community—
I presume she was referring to Lightning Ridge—
that DMR is a "toothless tiger", either unable or unwilling to prosecute those that avoid their responsibilities. This lack of leadership only encourages miners to shirk their rehabilitation, or environmental responsibilities, as they are safe in the knowledge that the chances of being caught and/or prosecuted are virtually nonexistent.
She couched her letter in pretty strong language because they are pretty significant concerns. I understand the frustration of some of the landholders in Lightning Ridge. As I said at the outset, a small minority of miners have done the wrong thing, and that reflects badly on everyone. Louise is aware of some of those miners who have done the wrong thing and that is obviously why she has expressed those strong views. She recognises that there are some benefits to be gained as a result of the implementation of this bill, so she has not asked Opposition members to oppose it. However, she refers in her letter to some of the changes that could be made to the Mining Act in the future and states:
Fossicking should require a permit as well as the landholders consent. To obtain a permit to fossick proof of identification to a value of 100 points must be presented to DMR, along with a signed consent form from the landholder.
The bill includes regulations relating to proof of identification—an issue that has caused problems for miners in Lightning Ridge. I have heard it said that if someone wants to get lost the best place to do that would be in Lightning Ridge. The unfortunate behaviour of one miner should not impact on others, which is why Louise holds such strong views. Louise refers in her letter to rehabilitation and states:
A combined security deposit should reflect the potential cost of rehabilitation for the mineral claim and that a sunset clause is inserted into the provision of the mineral claim and opal prospecting licence for rehabilitation work to be completed.
Landholders have strong views in relation to rehabilitation because of the unfortunate acts of a few. At the end of the day landholders have ultimate responsibility for the rehabilitation of their land. Louise referred also in her letter to restricted areas and states:
Restricted Areas which state where OPL's cannot be lodged over sensitive areas within a mineral claims district is welcomed. However, it is suggested that the Lightning Ridge Mining Board would make these decisions. Restricted Areas should be a decision made between DMR and the landholder when the order is made to set up a mineral claims district.
When the Government determines the areas that are to be restricted I hope it consults with miners and with landholders. I received an email from Louise on 23 April in which she states:
A "permit to enter" should only be issued by a warden and have strict conditions and penalties attached to it. We currently have an overwhelming problem with law and order ... and this will only push it beyond anyone's control.
Those significant concerns have been conveyed to the Minister but it is appropriate to place them on the record again. Opposition members have consulted with the Pastoralists Association of West Darling, which holds strong views about who should be able to enter leasehold properties. On 15 April I received an email from Ken Turner which states:
The Pastoralists' Association believes landholders should be able to control who, when and where people are on their property.
That is a legitimate concern. Their farming businesses will be affected by these mining operations, an issue about which they were aware when they entered into or bought a lease. However, as I said earlier, the actions of a minority of miners reflect badly on all miners. It is important to place on the record that many landholders have been affected at times as a result of those wrongful acts. I will refer in Committee to mining subleases. The New South Wales Minerals Council said it had been consulted by the Department of Mineral Resources and it was satisfied with that consultation. Any concerns that it has in relation to mining subleases will be addressed by the regulations that will be implemented in this bill. The Opposition does not oppose the bill, but it notes the real concerns that have been expressed by pastoralists and landholders. The actions of some rogues make it difficult for farmers to operate in mining areas. Some of the measures that have been introduced to reinforce the rights of landholders might be extended in the future.
Mr MILTON ORKOPOULOS (Swansea) [10.29 p.m.]: I support the Mining Amendment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which will be of benefit to farmers, miners and environmental management. It will also streamline administrative processes. I congratulate the Minister on bringing forward a raft of legislation to reform the mining industry over the past 12 months. These amendments relate to many of the mining activities conducted at Lightning Ridge, a unique part of New South Wales that many members will have visited and enjoyed. Currently there are approximately 6,000 mineral claims for opal within the Lightning Ridge mineral claims district. Each claim represents an area of 50 metres by 50 metres, and they are spread across Western Lands lease areas.
Opal mining is an important industry with major benefits to the local community and industries such as jewellery making and tourism. Approximately 7,000 people live in and around the Lightning Ridge opal fields. The intensity of mining in the Lightning Ridge area presents challenges that are distinctly different from those relating to mining and exploration in other parts of the State. The intent of these amendments is to simplify and clarify the procedures concerning mining in our world-famous opal fields. Each year New South Wales derives about $35 million from opal mining. In addition, a number of landholders also derive income in the form of compensation from mineral claims over their property, highlighting the importance of the mining industry to the local community.
The Government is mindful of the need to maintain and improve relations between miners and landholders so that any future opportunities for expansion of the opal fields can be achieved in a way that is mutually beneficial and smooth. Opal mining is different from any other type of mining in that it involves individuals rather than major companies. To encourage these individuals, rather than companies, claims are limited in size and usually only one or two miners work a claim. A major feature of Lightning Ridge is access to private land involving negotiation between miners and farmers. This is where access management plans come into focus.
The proposed amendments will introduce access management plans that will provide a more straightforward process for titleholders to access land for prospecting or mining. Currently, the Act contains provisions for access arrangements between individual titleholders and individual landholders but only in the case of exploration licences and assessment leases. No equivalent provisions apply to mineral claims and opal prospecting licences—the titles most often used in the opal fields. It is proposed to introduce simple, straightforward controls over access to land for mineral claims and opal prospecting licences. These new arrangements are good news for farmers and miners, and will contribute to better relations between the two. These agreements will be between the landholder and the titleholders, or their representatives, such as the Lightning Ridge Miners Association.
The new agreements will be similar to an ongoing group access arrangement, and the development of access management plans should be simple and straightforward. In cases where agreement cannot be reached over an area, the dispute will be referred to the director-general or the mining warden for determination. Access management plans will also apply to future titleholders and title applicants in the area. They will be registered and published, and members of the public will be able to purchase a copy. Currently the Act does not include a provision to indemnify a landholder against the action or inaction of titleholders. Indemnity is provided only as a condition of title, and landholders have expressed concern about the strength of such indemnity.
The amendments will remove this concern for landholders so they will not be held liable for what titleholders do or fail to do. The provisions of the Act allow the Minister to specify conditions that are to apply to all mineral claims granted. However, the Act does not allow the identification of areas where it is inappropriate that mineral claims be granted, for instance where an area is too environmentally sensitive, or for farm management purposes. For example, a farmer may want to preserve some higher country as a refuge for stock during flood. This can now be preserved. It is proposed to amend the Act to allow for the flexibility needed to readily manage small areas with transient titles such as mineral claims. Such restrictions may include the identification of areas within the district where applications for claims cannot be lodged.
These much-needed amendments will also assist in improving relations between landholders and titleholders. A significant number of people live in and around the Lightning Ridge opal fields. Although Lightning Ridge is home to some of the world's finest black opals, it also has a diverse range of native wildlife, including kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, echidnas, and rare Australian birds. This environment needs to be protected and the highest standards maintained. Before the introduction of modern standards of environmental care, the landscape of this historic mining area of the State was characterised by the mullock, or spoil heaps from previous mining. Some of these areas will be retained because of their historic and tourist value, but the Carr Government seeks to ensure that more recent opal mining sites are rehabilitated. The community has high expectations about how the environment should be managed, and those expectations have increased dramatically. The opal mining industry is under pressure to improve its environmental performance, and rightly so.
Our understanding of the impact of certain activities on the land has improved dramatically in recent times and the community expects this to be reflected in our environmental management of the land. Opal mining and prospecting operations need to be carried out in a responsible manner and should coexist harmoniously with pastoral activities. Therefore, the rehabilitation of opal mining sites will be brought into line with rehabilitation in the rest of the mining industry. It is no longer acceptable for a claimholder to walk off the land, leaving behind a scarred landscape and rusting rubbish. Claims must be made safe and the land must be restored to its pre-mining use of grazing. Consequently it is intended to amend the Act so the grant and renewal of claims within a mineral claims district may be subject to a levy or levies. They will be used to establish and maintain a Lightning Ridge mineral claims district rehabilitation and environmental management fund, a district road maintenance fund, and other district funds. The grant of opal prospecting licences within an opal prospecting area will also be subject to a levy or levies for the same purpose.
The Lightning Ridge Mining Board and the Miner's Association will be consulted on proposals for levies. Under the Act, a lodgment fee must accompany an application for an opal prospecting licence. There is a ballot for opal prospecting licences and the application fee is returned to unsuccessful applicants. In the past this has led to difficulties with ballots for the more popular opal prospecting licences. Now miners will pay a small fee, which is not refundable, when they make an application. The remainder of the application fee that would normally be paid will now only be paid by the successful applicant when the title is granted. This new arrangement will simplify administration, save time and resources, and provide a much more practical application process for miners.
Overall, these amendments will be of great benefit to our environment. The procedures will be more straightforward and will be able to be dealt with more effectively. The bill will provide advantages for the Lightning Ridge community, its miners, the environment, and the industry as a whole. The Carr Government is intent on bringing improvements to our world-renowned opal mining industry and I urge honourable members to support the bill.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Although I appreciate the need for members to refer from time to time to copious notes, I take a dim view of speeches being read into Hansard.
Mr TONY McGRANE (Dubbo) [10.39 a.m.]: I will not refer to notes. I support the Mining Amendment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill and I commend the Minister for Mineral Resources for his achievements in his short time in the portfolio. Amending the Mining Act is a difficult task. For many years there have been disputes between miners, landholders, and the general community, especially in the unique Lightning Ridge area. The honourable member for Swansea said there are many kangaroos around Lighting Ridge. That is certainly true. I suggest that the honourable member visits Lightning Ridge. He can break his journey in Dubbo, where we will entertain him.
Lightning Ridge is vital to the economy of north-western New South Wales. It is particularly important to Dubbo, which Lightning Ridge people consider to be their city. There has been friction between local miners and landholders for a long time and these amendments to the Act will go a long way towards solving some of the problems. In many ways Lightning Ridge and other opal mining areas are a world of their own. For instance, Lightning Ridge has more registered postal boxes than any other town in Australia—in fact, there are many more boxes than there are people. People travel from all over the world to this opal mining mecca to try their luck in the opal industry. The Minister for Mineral Resources has done well to bring together landholders, pastoralists, property owners and Lightning Ridge locals to produce a bill that enjoys unanimous support. Although it could have gone further, the bill is not a compromise but a positive step forward. I commend it to the House.
Mr BRYCE GAUDRY (Newcastle—Parliamentary Secretary) [10.42 a.m.]: I join honourable members in commending the Minister for Mineral Resources for bringing before the House the Mining Amendment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which strikes a balance between the rights of landholders and the activities of opal fossickers in the Lightning Ridge area. While the bill is primarily concerned with issues relating to opal mining at Lightning Ridge, it makes some important changes to the Mining Act that have statewide significance. For the first time landholders will be given full immunity from any action, liability, claim or demand as a consequence of the exercise of any power or right under the Act. This immunity covers not only activities on titles but also any other actions covered by the Act. This has been an area of major concern to a number of landholders, particularly in areas such as Lightning Ridge, where there is a high level of activity on some properties by a large number of small-scale operators.
The amendment relating to access to Western Lands leases by fossickers will mean that landholders will rightfully be able to control access to their properties. Fossickers will be required to get the consent of Western Lands leaseholders in the same way that they are currently required to get the consent of all other types of landholders. Unfortunately, some small groups of fossickers have not been prepared to exercise the normal courtesies that are expected in relation to entry to properties, and hence this amendment is necessary. This does not mean an end to fossicking, which is a legitimate activity that is recognised in the Mining Act; it simply brings the rights of holders of Western Lands leases into line with those of other landholders.
The new provisions relating to subleasing have been introduced to minimise the risk of Nardell-type situations occurring. Except for subleasing between subsidiary or related corporate entities, major subleases will not be permitted. Instead, leases will have to be transferred to ensure that the operator is fully accountable for all conditions of the lease. This process allows the Minister to vary the conditions of the lease at the time of transfer to ensure, for example, that workers' entitlements are protected.
The amendments will result in some major changes in the Lightning Ridge opal mining area. Apart from giving landholders immunity from the actions of opal miners, the changes will assist in improving the standard of rehabilitation in the Lightning Ridge area. The changes will benefit miners and landholders alike. In order to gain access to land, miners must negotiate terms of access with landholders. The Mining Act currently contains provisions for access arrangements between individual titleholders and individual landholders, but only in the case of exploration licences and assessment leases. Since these new access management plans will be made by agreement between all titleholders, applicants and each landholder, the new agreement will be similar to an ongoing group access arrangement. The plans may be made by affected landholders and titleholders or titleholder representatives, such as the Lightning Ridge Miners Association. Once made, an access management plan will apply to future, as well as current, titleholders.
In cases where agreement cannot be reached the Director-General of the Department of Mineral Resources, after considering any submissions received on the matter, may make a determination. If either party is still unhappy with the plan, the Mining Act will allow it to be referred to the Mining Warden for determination. The holder of a mineral claim is currently entitled under the Mining Act to a right of way between the title and a public road. However, the holder of an opal prospecting licence currently does not have the same right under the Act. These amendments will make the Act consistent for both mineral claim and opal prospecting licence holders.
Amendments to the Act also propose that rights of way should continue to run from a public road to the mineral claim but should follow existing constructed tracks. Permits to enter land allow the holder only to mark out a mineral claim. Changes to the Act will mean that a person with a permit will also be able to enter the land to inspect it before applying for an opal prospecting licence or a mineral claim, or to comply with the conditions of a title. The responsibilities of the holder of a permit to enter are now outlined more clearly, and sanctions will be applied to any breaches.
At present a mineral claim or a mining lease cannot be granted within 200 metres of a house. As part of the settlement of the "camps on claims" issue some years ago, it was agreed that miners in some areas of Lightning Ridge could have homes on their claims. It was also agreed that these miners would ultimately be able to obtain a Western Lands lease for claims with homes. The Act will be amended to make sure that the opal fields can continue to be worked near the small 50 metre by 50 metre residential claims. Under the proposed amendments the 200-metre exclusion zone will not apply beyond the boundary of any Western Lands lease for residents within a minerals claims district. The effect of this will be that a mineral claim can be granted adjacent to a 50 metre by 50 metre residential Western Lands lease with a dwelling on it.
Changes to security deposits are also proposed for mineral claims and opal prospecting licences. At present a combined security deposit can be lodged only for a number of mineral claims or opal prospecting licences. However, in some cases an opal miner holds both mineral claims and opal prospecting licences. The amendment will allow a single security deposit to be lodged for a combination of mineral claims and opal prospecting licences. This will simplify the security deposit process and thus benefit miners. The Minister for Mineral Resources has made a number of very important and sensible amendments that both advantage the opal mining community and local prospectors and give security to landholders, thereby balancing interests in Lightning Ridge, which is a major opal mining and farming area, as well as a growing tourist mecca for both national and international visitors. I commend the bill to the House.
Mr DARYL MAGUIRE (Wagga Wagga) [10.48 a.m.]: The opal has a fascinating history and it has been treasured for many thousands of years. I am told that opals recently discovered in Coober Pedy are believed to be up to 120 million years old. The Roman Empire established the opal gemstone as a trading product. It was said that Mark Anthony loved the opal so much that he coveted an opal by Roman Senator Nonius. Mark Anthony banished the Senator after he refused to sell the almond sized stone, reputed to be worth 2 million sesterces, which is about $US80,000 now, and legend states that one Roman Emperor offered to trade one-third of his vast kingdom for an opal.
In the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries opals began to fall out of favour in Europe, and they were wrongly branded as bringing bad luck to those who owned them. Indeed, it was declared that opals brought pestilence and famine. However, Queen Victoria did much to restore the good image of opals. Indeed, she became known as an opal lover. Australian opals were first discovered by a German, Johannes Menge, in 1849 in Angaston in South Australia. Both the Queensland boulder opal and Lightning Ridge fields attracted miners in the 1800s. There have been some fascinating finds. It all began at White Cliffs in New South Wales in 1890. Interestingly, the size and quality of the opals are outstanding.
The first large, fine Australian opal mentioned in literature is Dunstan's stone, which was found in 1890 in a new shaft sunk in a field at Lightning Ridge. Charlie Dunstan had found another large opal previously but its blue-green colour play was not considered valuable at the time, although the stone weighed about 12 ounces, which is 1,860 carats. It was at a depth of approximately six metres that Charlie found the brilliant gem opal, sometimes called the Aurora Australis. This treasure was rumoured to have brought Dunstan £100. Still in its original form, this gemstone is currently on display in Sydney. There have been many finds recorded in the information I have available. The Australian opal industry currently produces about 95 per cent of the world's opals for the jewellery industry. Indeed, in 1998-99 Australia exported about $60 million worth of opals, compared with about $85 million in 1997-98. So opals are an enormous contributor to our export market.
This bill has been welcomed by the shadow Minister, and its intentions are well received by all sides. Coming from a rural background, I shall make a couple of points in relation to landholders and unauthorized people accessing property, which causes an enormous amount of dissent between landholders and the people accessing their properties, particularly as mining camps are often rough and ready. When miners—or indeed anyone using a property, whether for opal mining or any other purpose—are finished, landholders can become upset if the land is not restored in a reasonable fashion. Often when I travel around the back country where I come from, I see evidence of kangaroo and rabbit shooter's camps littered with old car wrecks and machinery. These days farmers are becoming more and more environmentally conscious, as we all are and should be.
As a landholder, when I see things like that I want to restore the land to its natural state as quickly and as efficiently as possible. So I would like the Minister to tell me what he proposes, by the bill or by regulation, will happen with the restoration of the environment. I understand that an opal mine is required to be covered by some kind of mesh or other protection. The honourable member for Swansea said there was a requirement to restore the environment to its natural state. Does that mean filling in holes, removing all the equipment that was used, and replanting the area with native seeds and grasses? I should like the Minister to define exactly what is intended by way of restoring a mine site to its natural environment. If restoration means not filling in holes but only doing certain work, does that mean the works would then be fenced off to ensure the area is secure to prevent animals straying into the works, or some poor unfortunate soul wandering along at midnight, having broken down and trying to find a homestead, falling into one of the diggings? Exactly what is intended? I am sure the public would appreciate the Minister putting that on the record.
I note that the bill provides for the management of funds, and that is positive. There has been consultation with landholders and the mining industry, and the bill provides for access agreements, which will provide how mining sites will be accessed, and how mining activities will be managed. I would appreciate a response from the Minister, the little miner--I say that in a very nice way--because the environment is of great interest to us all. While I acknowledge the enormous contribution of the opal industry and how it contributes to our economic base, it is important that we all understand exactly what is expected of the industry in terms of restoration of land, the Minister's expectations of what the bill will achieve, and how that will be monitored. That is important. Will someone check on that? If so, who will it be, and what will their powers be to ensure that sites are restored to a reasonable standard? I commend the bill to the House.
Mr KERRY HICKEY (Cessnock—Minister for Mineral Resources) [10.57 a.m.], in reply: I congratulate the honourable member for Murrumbidgee, the honourable member for Swansea, the honourable member for Dubbo, the honourable member for Newcastle, and the honourable member for Wagga Wagga on their contributions to the debate. I am pleased that the Opposition supports the bill. I think that goes a long way to acknowledging the commonsense measures in the bill and how it is addressing many issues. The honourable member for Wagga Wagga asked about the restoration of mine sites. The old existing historical mines around the Lightning Ridge area will be maintained as they are, because they are a tourist attraction--tourists like to look at that area. Existing mines are to be covered by mesh and made safe. Future mines sites in new areas will be restored to their natural environment, with machinery and so on removed.
That will be monitored by the Department of Mineral Resources [DMR]. The department has done a great deal of work in the area to address the problems there. DMR officers should be congratulated on their environmental sweeps of the Lightning Ridge area, which they conduct regularly. Sites that do not comply have been issued with improvement notices. We are trying to clean up that area. In the 12 months I have been Minister we have been working hard to address many of the issues. I know we will never totally appease every group, but it is about balance: ensuring we have an opal industry that is seen to be one of the best in the world, as well as meeting the needs of local farmers.
As Minister I have been trying to reach the middle, commonsense ground, and that is why I have the support of the New South Wales Farmers Association, the miners, and the Opposition. I am deeply grateful for their support. I acknowledge the hard work that officers of the department have put into the bill. My policy adviser, Siobhan Barry, has also worked tirelessly to tidy up this bill and work with all stakeholders. I congratulate all those hardworking people. I commend the bill to the House.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 3 agreed to.
Mr KERRY HICKEY (Cessnock—Minister for Mineral Resources) [11.00 a.m.]: I move Government amendment No. 1:
No. 1 Page 3, schedule 1. Insert after line 13:
(2) This section does not apply:
(a) if the holder of the head lease is a body corporate and the holder of the mining sublease is a subsidiary of the body corporate within the meaning of the Corporations Act 2001 of the Commonwealth, or
(b) if the mining sublease is exempt from the operation of this section by an order in force under subsection (3), or
(c) if the mining sublease is exempt from the operation of this section by the regulations.
(3) The Minister may, by order in writing, exempt a mining sublease from the operation of this section.
Mr ADRIAN PICCOLI (Murrumbidgee) [11.02 a.m.]: The Opposition does not oppose this amendment, which I understand was made following consultation with the New South Wales Minerals Council in relation to their concerns about the requirement in the original amending bill for ministerial approval for subleases of 100 hectares or greater. They were concerned that a sublease to a joint venture or equity partner may have been caught up in the original bill, but as those types of subleases are often made for none other than commercial reasons, and not in an attempt to subvert employee entitlements or do anything underhanded, the amendment has been introduced and the New South Wales Minerals Council is happy about it. For those reasons the Opposition does not oppose the amendment.
Amendment agreed to.
Mr KERRY HICKEY (Cessnock—Minister for Mineral Resources) [11.02 a.m.]: I move Government amendment No. 2:
No. 2 Page 5, schedule 1. Insert after line 29:
(3) An order under this section may not be made with respect to land that is within an area for which a board of management is constituted under section 359 unless the Director-General:
(a) has notified the board of the proposed order, and
(b) has taken into consideration any submissions made by the board in relation to the proposed order.
Considerable consultation has taken place on the proposals in this bill. As a result, several amendments are proposed to improve the operations of various details of the bill. This amendment involves the provisions that allow orders preventing applications for mineral claims over specified areas. This amendment provides that before any such order is made the director-general is to consult with the relevant mining board of management established under the Mining Act. In the Lightning Ridge area the relevant board is the Lightning Ridge Mining Board, which includes representatives of miners and landholders. I commend the amendment.
Mr ADRIAN PICCOLI (Murrumbidgee) [11.03 a.m.]: The Opposition does not oppose the amendment. For obvious reasons, it supports any measure that involves consultation. As I mentioned in my contribution to the second reading debate, if any areas of an open prospecting lease are going to be excluded from mining, then it should be done with the consultation of miners and landholders. This amendment deals with that specific issue, and for those reasons the Opposition does not oppose it.
Amendment agreed to.
Mr KERRY HICKEY (Cessnock—Minister for Mineral Resources) [11.05 a.m.]: I move Government amendment No. 3:
No. 3 Page 14, schedule 1. Insert after line 14:
235E Pending applications
This amendment is a minor clarification to provide that where applications for opal prospecting licences are lodged they are to be treated on a similar basis to mineral claim applications, as pending until finally disposed of. I commend the amendment.
For the purposes of this Act, an application for an opal prospecting licence is pending from the time it is lodged under this Act until the time it is finally disposed of.
Amendment agreed to.
Mr KERRY HICKEY (Cessnock—Minister for Mineral Resources) [11.05 a.m.], by leave: I move amendments Government Nos 4 and 5 in globo:
No. 4 Page 20, schedule 1, line 29. Omit "A mining registrar". Insert instead "Subject to the regulations, the Director-General".
No. 5 Page 20, schedule 1, line 34. Omit "The holder". Insert instead "Subject to the regulations, the holder".
These amendments relate to the provision dealing with permits to enter land for purposes such as inspecting or marking out a proposed mineral claim. The overall intention is to give appropriate protection to landholders, while allowing genuine opal miners reasonable access. The amendments now proposed will reinforce that objective, in particular, by the inclusion of supporting regulation powers. The planned regulations are to further prescribe controls and restrictions that will apply in that context. Matters to be covered are to include ensuring the genuineness of applications for permits to enter land, defining permissible inspection activities, and detailing where vehicles used by permit holders are and are not allowed. I commend the amendments.
Mr ADRIAN PICCOLI (Murrumbidgee) [11.06 a.m.]: I understand that the New South Wales Farmers Association has specifically asked for amendment No. 4, which the Opposition does not oppose. The Opposition also does not oppose No. 5 but it is concerned when matters are left to regulation. When legislation comes before the Parliament it can be reviewed and commented upon by honourable members, but regulations are much less open to comment, by the Opposition in particular. We are concerned about that matter, but I hope that when the regulations are being formulated there will be extensive consultation, particularly with landholders. This amendment will have a significant impact on the ability of landholders to operate their farm businesses in terms of regulating the access routes across their property for miners to access their mining leases. I note that the Lightning Ridge Miners Association is concerned about amendments Nos 4 and 5. The Opposition does not oppose amendment Nos 4 or 5, but I urge the Minister and the department to consult extensively with landholders and consider their views very strongly when formulating the regulations.
Amendments agreed to.
Schedule 1 as amended agreed to.
Bill reported from Committee with amendments and passed through remaining stages.