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'Beware the Ides of March' is the famous phrase uttered in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar's assassination.

With the past four state government elections having been held in March, one wonders whether there should have been a similar warning given the various issues that have occurred following each election. One of the significantly contentious issues in recent months has been the Statutes Amendment (Mineral Resources) Bill 2018 and associated regulations to amend the Mining Act 1971. It is an important issue for our state, with the agricultural and mining sectors making significant financial contributions but having differing views on how mining should take place.

The crossing of the floor by four Liberal MPs late last year highlighted the contentious nature of the bill, in particular, the provisions dealing with access to agricultural land and the manner in which the compensation paid to landowners is calculated when access is granted.

Much of the angst has been the result of there being no independent inquiry into the proposed changes, particularly in the context of the legislation that exists in other states. What makes this particularly surprising is that it appears that both the agricultural and mining sectors are open to a review or inquiry.

WA is one example where there are more limited access arrangements when agricultural land is involved. There is still a general right to mine, but for certain types of private land - including where the land is genuinely and regularly used for agricultural purposes or is under cultivation - this general right to mine is prohibited in relation to 'surface rights' to the land from the surface to 30 metres below the surface.

Under the WA system, if a miner wants to obtain 'surface rights', it has to obtain the consent of both the owner and the occupier of the relevant land, and there is no recourse to the miner where there a refusal in relation to the surface rights. This means a landowner or occupier can refuse to grant access to private land for the portion of the land between the surface and 30 metres below the surface. Similarly, in some other states there are more prescriptive requirements when it comes to compensation and how it is calculated.

The system in SA sets out that when determining compensation payable, it is necessary to consider any damage caused to the land by the person carrying out the mining operations, as well as any loss of productivity or profits as a result of the mining operations. This compares to other states where a broader range of matters are to be considered, including severance of the land from other land, damage to improvements on the land, loss of or restriction of rights of way, disruption to agricultural activities and disturbance.

With the legislation yet to pass through the Upper House, it will be interesting to see whether there is a further push to have an inquiry into the mining stystem in SA.

This article first appeared in The Stock Journal on 19 August 2019.