Recent amendments to the Mining Act will come into force in the near future.
In my August 2009 column I set out a “wish list” of some changes I would like to see to the Act.
I said the Act should require miners (and explorers) to pay landowners’ reasonable legal, valuations and other consultants costs during, rather than at the conclusion, of negotiations. That wish was not granted.
The amendments do however specify that compensation includes the landowners’ costs of negotiation or dispute, which by implication includes consultants’ costs.
The problem is that landowners have to wear those costs up front unless the consultants hold their bills until negotiations are finalised. The fact that some miners do voluntarily pay landowners’ interim costs, can go a long way towards reducing the impact and conflict between the parties.
It is in the interest of the mining industry to continue to look at ways to make mining more acceptable, and less stressful, for landowners.
Another concern exists where a landowner has to deal with a small miner or a subsidiary with minimal assets. The parent company may not hold the licence. This may cause problems when chasing rehabilitation costs, unless the Minister assists in funding the rehabilitation.
At present another risk is where there is a major accident on the land. If the licensee only has minimal assets and inadequate insurance then a landowner may be stuck with the consequences. Fortunately, under the draft of the new Regulations miners will be required to carry public liability insurance cover.
Another positive change allows a landowner a “cooling-off” period of 5 business days after waiving right to have land exempted from mining (such as in the area surrounding their house) unless otherwise ordered by a Court.
The Act has also been amended to provide a potential right for the landowner to force the miner to acquire the whole of the land, not just that part subject to the mining operations, when the activities of the miner will “substantially impair the owner’s use and enjoyment of the land”.
There is a more detailed section dealing with programs for environmental protection and rehabilitation in the Act.
These amendments are a positive step forward.
The Regulations, which are not yet finalised, may provide some further protection for landowners. Hopefully they may address the issues referred to in the SAFF/SACOME Code of Conduct.
The problem with the compensation regime in the Mining Act however is that while the landowner may be compensated for loss of profit, disturbance and other matters, in many cases this will not equal the distress from the loss of enjoyment of the family home.
In fairness however to the politicians, the existing compensation regime is similar to that which applies in other situations, such as compulsory land acquisitions for road works etc.
It would be interesting to review what happens in the United States, Canada and other countries in relation to mining compensation and entry/exit issues, although any review of that nature may need to be done on a national rather than a state basis.
I understand there was robust debate regarding the proposed amendments. While the amendments are certainly an improvement, judging by some of the responses in the “Stock Journal” many landowners do not think the amendments went far enough. While there is a very real need to build a viable mining industry in this State to create more long term jobs, and flow on benefits, the difficult task for the politicians is to balance that against the interest of existing landowners in protecting their homes and livelihoods.