The LRMA and GGSMA had a positive meeting with the Minister for Resources & Energy, the Hon Anthony Roberts MP, in Sydney on 8 May 2014. This was the first time we had met Minister Roberts and he advised that he was very keen to visit Lightning Ridge to look at our industry first hand.
The Minister then arranged for us to meet with the Executive Director of Resources & Energy, Brad Mullard and Nathan Laird from the Policy and Legislation section to give us some more detail on the issues we had on the agenda for discussion.
Lightning Ridge Miners’ Association Ltd (LRMA) President Sebastian Deisenberger, Director Ormie Molyneux, Secretary/Manager Maxine O’Brien and Glengarry, Grawin, Sheepyards Miners Association (GGSMA) President Pat Fletcher attended the meetings.
One issue of discussion was landholder compensation and the Minister advised the Bill has been drafted and they are currently reviewing it before it goes before Cabinet for approval. Once Cabinet approves the Bill it will be presented to Parliament to be passed into legislation.
The legislation will enable the Minister to set the amount of compensation which will need to be paid before a title will be granted. The amount will be reviewed independently every five years. The LRMA and GGSMA hope to look at the Bill before it goes to Parliament in case there are some unintended consequences that have been overlooked by government. We are not holding our breath on the timing.
Minister Roberts informed us that included in this same Bill will be legislation to reinstate the opal industry’s infrastructure levies. The road, waste dump and rehabilitation levies were abolished in July 2012. The reintroduction of these levies will enable the miners associations to maintain the mining tracks, rehabilitation stockpiles and continue rehabilitation works.
We also raised the issue of mullock dumps or as we prefer to call them ‘rehabilitation stockpiles’ with both the Minister and Mr Mullard. Legislation was passed some four years ago that requires all mining related activities such as the depositing of overburden to be on a mining title. The LRMA and GGSMA have always agreed to site new rehabilitation stockpiles on a mining title but are not in the position to take title over the 40 or so existing stockpiles.
We are seeking a Ministerial exemption for these stockpiles to be on title. We also sought a change in Departmental policy that would enable the mullock dump levy to be used to maintain the existing stockpiles. Currently they will only permit the levy to be used on stockpiles that are on mining titles held by an industry association, of which there are only two at Mulga’s opal field, managed by the GGSMA.
The creation of centralised rehabilitation stockpiles we believe is one of the most important environmental initiatives introduced to the opal fields. Prior to their introduction in the 1990s excess mullock was permitted to be left on individual mineral claims. The stockpiles were put in place by agreement between the miners, respective landholders and the Departments administering mineral resources and western lands. The stockpiles centralised the overburden into discreet areas and are a valuable resource for rehabilitation. Over time the LRMA believes the majority of mullock in the rehabilitation stockpiles will be used to backfill shafts.
We also discussed the shocking state of the Opal Prospecting Block (OPB) maps. Since they were digitised quite a few years ago, many OPBs no longer cover the ridge country they used to and now take in areas of black soil. Many OPB boundaries no longer follow identifiable boundaries such as fence lines and tracks. Mr Mullard assured us the issue is being addressed and the Department are arranging for various reference points to be surveyed to enable them to realign the boundaries.
Another issue discussed was the length of time the Department has taken to grant titles on properties where pipelines, tanks and troughs were installed some ten months ago. Mr Mullard has promised to look into this.
While we were in Sydney we had the pleasure to meet with the CEO of the NSW Minerals Council, Stephen Galilee. We had a general talk about the issues facing our respective industries and it was interesting to note there were many parallels, albeit on a different scale. One example was access arrangements whereby they have thousands of access arrangements in place yet there are a few where agreement cannot be reached that receive a lot of attention. Very similar to opal mining.