The interaction between agricultural activities and other activities, including mining, has been a problematic issue across SA for many years. Having assisted many landowners across a number of decades, we have seen a lot of the issues first hand.
A major reason for it being such a difficult issue is there have often been incompatible land uses put next to each other - in the case of farming enterprises and residential developments - or land being acquired and removing prime agricultural land, in the case of mining and large scale residential developments.
Given agricultural land is estimated to be as little as four per cent to 5pc of the state's surface area but generates billions of dollars in revenue, it is important to put appropriate protections in place.
In November last year Parliament's Select Committee on Land Access tabled its final report on its investigations into land use. The report was wide ranging, with the committee finding that neither mining nor agriculture should be favoured in matters of land access but indicating there should be a rigorous process to resolve any conflict and there should also be greater protections for agricultural land.
There were a range of concerns raised by the committee, including that:
- The Department for Energy and Mining needed to be a stronger regulator of the mining industry;
- Agricultural land needed greater protection from mining;
- Landowners disputing land access needed better compensation and reimbursement of costs;
- Rehabilitation after mining required improvement;
- The land access laws were complex and difficult for landowners to navigate; and
- Neighbouring properties were often not taken into account.
Arising from those concerns, the committee made six recommendations, which included the establishment of a mining ombudsman to oversee and enforce the Mining Act, the development of standalone planning legislation, an increase in the amount of compensation available for professional fees to assist landowners, increased notice periods, the development of simpler documentation relating to land access and a requirement to consult with adjoining land-owners.
The establishment of an ombudsman to oversee the system is, without a doubt, a positive step. There has been a great deal of angst among many landowners that the same body that encourages mining and grants the approvals is the same body that polices them. Having ombudsman oversight will assist with alleviating some of these concerns. Likewise, simplifying the system, providing landowners with additional time and improved access to professional advice will help in ensuring landowners rights are protected and any compensation is appropriate.
At the moment there is a significant imbalance between the negotiating powers of a mining company and a landowner, so anything done to improve this scenario is a positive. It may also provide a benefit to the mining companies if everyone involved in the process has a system with greater clarity on compensation and the process involved.
The recommendations are clearly a positive step in the right direction. What landowners can take is if the recommendations are adopted, it will be an improvement for them when dealing with mining companies. Whether it goes far enough will always be a subjective issue, but the most important issues will be whether these recommendations are actually implemented.
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