Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN (Stuart) (11:59): I rise on behalf of the people of Stuart and the Liberal opposition as the lead speaker on the Statutes Amendment (Leading Practice in Mining) Bill 2017. This is incredibly important work. We need improvements in this area; there is absolutely no doubt about it. The Liberal opposition will not slow down progress of this bill through this house. The bill seeks to amend three acts—the Mining Act, the Opal Mining Act and the Mines and Works Inspection Act—so it is a mining acts review, but if I forget to put the ‘s’ on there every now and then I am sure everybody will understand.
Interestingly, this bill does not affect the Petroleum Act, and that is for very good reason. I understand that, but it is important for people to know that a lot of the issues we deal with regarding this bill are also relevant to the Petroleum Act, particularly in relation to land access and different stakeholders with different interests in how land is accessed and used. The government announced its mining acts review in September 2016, and I know that a lot of work has been done since then. I would like to thank all the people and all the organisations who have contributed to that work over that time.
No doubt the minister, the minister’s office, departmental people and other public servants have done a lot of work, but most importantly I would like to thank the community members, the businesspeople and the advocacy groups who have contributed as well, because they have done an enormous amount of work. We are paid to do what we do—public servants are professionals at their work—but a lot of these people who contribute their time, their effort, their knowledge and their expertise do it for the love of it. It is a big job for community people to make submissions to government consultation processes, and I really do want to put my thanks to those people on the record.
Many of them put countless hours into doing this. What they might lack in professional capacity in that area, because it is not their primary way of earning a living, they more than make up for with their knowledge, their skill, their passion and their devotion to the issue they are trying to have a very positive influence on. That consultation process is not complete. While the government started that process in September 2016, it is actually an ongoing process. All the people I have referred to in general have been participating for a long time and continue to participate.
Of course, one of the great difficulties of a process like this is the issue of reaching a compromise. It is almost always impossible for every stakeholder’s wishes to be represented in the final outcome. People know that; everybody understands that. People approach this issue in a range of different ways. Some people say, ‘This is my absolute must-have. I am not messing anybody around. This is it.’ Other people approach it with ambit claims and say, ‘I want this much,’ when actually they mean, ‘I would settle for that much.’ It is a very difficult issue for people to resolve, and it is hard to figure out whether it is the must-have or the ambit claim you have been presented with.
There is a huge amount of work, but it is important to get it right as we are dealing with two of the state’s most important commercial sectors, which contribute to our economy and society in many ways. When I refer to mining, I am talking about prospecting, exploring, mining, services sectors and corporates here in Adelaide, interstate and, in some cases, overseas as well. If I talk about mining, I really mean all those people who have an interest. If I talk about farmers, I realise that we are talking about croppers, graziers, freehold land owners and pastoral lease and perpetual lease owners. We are talking about people who might be leasing freehold land for a range of different purposes. So when I talk about miners and farmers, so that I do not have to say all those words over and over again I hope you will understand exactly what I mean.
Agriculture is the greatest contributor economically to our state across the life of South Australia. It has made a greater contribution than any other industry. I am often reminded of a discussion I had with the member for Flinders, with whom I formed a very close friendship shortly after we were elected. Of course, he has 30 years-plus experience as a full-time professional farmer before coming into this place. I have none—no experience as a farmer whatsoever.
The member for Flinders said to me, ‘Do you know, Dan, of all the things that we deal with in parliament, of all the things that we deal with as members of parliament in our electorates, hopefully as government members one day, of all the things that we agree on, we disagree on and we fight for, nothing helps our state’s economy more than rain, and that is completely out of our control.’ There is not one thing that contributes more to our economy in South Australia or makes a bigger difference to our economy in South Australia than whether or not it rains, whether we are in good seasons or we are in drought. It is ironic that it is out of all our control. So we have to work on the things that are within our control.
Miners also make an extraordinarily important contribution to our state, and the mining industry is one of our greatest growth opportunities. Given the situation that we find the state in economically at the moment with regard to our budgetary position, our unemployment position and a whole range of things that we talk about here endlessly—so I will not go through them again today—we need to be focused on the growth opportunities. This is about not sacrificing the outstanding industries we have in any way; whether they be in a broad range of agriculture or existing mining, let’s make sure that the future opportunities in both those industries are given as much chance as possible to really thrive.
There is also great history in both those industries in our state. From the time of European settlement in South Australia, agriculture has been critical but so has mining. There have been times when the mining industry saved our state. For example, the mine at Burra in my electorate of Stuart is often referred to as having saved the state’s economy and saved South Australia from going broke. We have great history in Kapunda, Burra, Moonta and other places on the top of Yorke Peninsula, and in Blinman, another place in my electorate.
Mining and agriculture have both been operating in Australia for a very long time and both have had great success. It is true to say that there has been friction between them for all that time. Today, we are trying to resolve some of that friction. While I talk about friction (and I will come back to some of those challenges later), it is important to point out that there are many similarities between mining and agriculture—miners and farmers, their businesses and their contribution in South Australia—beyond the fact that they have been historically with us for a long time. Mining and agriculture are extremely important today, as they have been historically.
Also it is very much the case in my electorate of Stuart that I work very hard to represent both mining and agricultural interests. It is very interesting that sometimes I can be in a meeting or walk down the street and people will say, ‘You’re just the shadow minister for mining. That’s why you’ve got that approach.’ On a different day, in a different meeting with different people, in a different place, people might say, ‘You’re the member for Stuart. That’s why you were just sticking up for the farmers.’ The reality is that people can read into this whatever they like, but for me particularly as the shadow for mining and energy and also as the member for Stuart—which stretches from Kapunda and Truro in the south all the way to the Northern Territory border—this is a very real-world issue. Most of my country colleagues are in exactly the same situation with regard to trying to do what is best for the state and their constituents.
Both industries are primary industries, which is often forgotten. Often, people think about the agriculture or farming side of things as being a primary industry, but mining is also a primary industry. Both industries require capital investment, operational investment, operational skill, ever-improving technology and a degree of luck to be successful.
Those are very interesting categorisations, and both farming and mining need all those, as well as other things, to be successful. Both contribute to regional development. I think that probably goes without saying, but what is less obvious to people, and also worth saying, is that both contribute to our metropolitan economy enormously. Where would the majority of South Australians who live in metropolitan Adelaide be without our farming and broader agriculture industry, and where would they be without mining?
There are endless similarities between these two industries, but let me be very clear that all South Australians, regardless of where they live, benefit from both these industries. Both are very significant employers. People often mistakenly think about mining employment in a regional context only, but the reality is that most people who work in mines or associated service industries actually are metropolitan people. Sure, there have been plenty of opportunities for country people to work in mines, and there still are.
In the district around Wilmington where I live, I can tell you that times are perhaps not as good this year as they have been for the last five years, where things were very good from an agricultural perspective. I can guarantee that the 10 years before that were very difficult for the people where I live. I know a lot of farming families very close to where I live who still own their farms because one or more family members were able to go away and work in a mine. That is something that I want people to keep very closely in their minds.
Wilmington, where I live, is a lower rainfall area than much of South Australia. It is going to be more cyclical: when times turn bad, there might be fewer resources stored up behind you or, when times come good, you cannot catch up as quickly as you can in some of the other farming areas of the state. I could rattle off the names of a dozen families right now who own their farms today because they were able to work in a mine during a drought. I think it is very important to recognise that, just as all those people who work in mines need to eat. They all need fibre and protein; they all need the items that are produced. There are a lot of interactions.
As I have said, both industries contribute massively to our economy. They both rely on international prices, which are out of their control. Both agriculture and mining almost exclusively—not entirely, as there are some niches in both, but overwhelmingly—rely on prices that are out of their control, so they both have cyclical returns. They both need to look at their costs and investments over a long period of time, but they cannot guarantee exactly what their incomes are going to be.
They are both tough businesses to know exactly what your profit is going to be. They both require long-term investment and, to be very successful, they both require a perpetual focus on cost reductions and efficiency gains. Both industries are exactly the same in that regard. You will not get to stay in business for too long if you are not focused on those sorts of things, given that your income is largely out of your control because of weather, international prices and so on.
What we are here to talk about in this bill is that both industries need access to land and both have a significant impact on the land that they use, so how can we make that work? Sometimes it is easy. Sometimes it is not hard. There are many examples of instances where mining exploration or prospecting for petroleum, gas and oil have worked incredibly well with agriculture. Of course, let’s think about that in the Far North of the state, an area I am extremely familiar with.
As a general rule, if a mining company goes to a family or a business with a sheep or cattle station, they are very welcome to talk about what they want to do. There is a long history of doing that. Most of the benefits that come to agriculture in the pastoral zones are very welcome because a lot of those benefits are not things that they naturally have anyway. However, as you get closer to the CBD, two things happen: generally, you have more rain and generally have more services as well, so the contest between the use of the land gets tougher and tougher. They can work very well together, but we need to find ways that they can work better together and more often.
We should always try to find ways that they can be compatible for the benefit of both sectors—the people who work in them and the people and businesses who require their outputs. Both these industries are generally supplying products which do not go directly to market. Again, there are niches; it is not always that way, but overwhelmingly they are supplying a product at the farm gate or the mine gate that does not go directly to the end consumer. The products from both industries are supporting a wide range of other businesses.
For me, this is all about trying to find responsible, productive, useful and helpful ways to get mining and agriculture to coexist for everybody’s benefit. I am not looking for ways to stop it. I am not trying to say, ‘There’s a risk here, so we will rule that out,’ or, ‘There’s a risk there, so we will rule that out.’ I would rather investigate the risk. I would rather interrogate the positives and the negatives, and, if they do not stack up or if they are unfair to either party, then maybe we will throw the project out then. Let us get a really good look at it first rather than just assume that there is no positive way forward.
Generally speaking, there is not a huge amount of animosity between the industries. It is very much about where businesses want to operate. This is not always the case, but in the majority it is very much about the issue. I have talked to most farmers, most people in Adelaide, most pastoral lease lessees, and most people say that they are quite comfortable with mining, that it is good, but most people do not want it near them, and I can understand that. I would not like to live near a mine. I would prefer not to.
On a tangent, it is quite similar to the nuclear power generation debate. Over time, more and more people are becoming comfortable with that possibility. I am not suggesting that everybody is; I know it is far from that, but over time more and more people are becoming comfortable with the idea that maybe that would be a good thing, but I do not know anybody who wants to live near a nuclear power station. Given that a nuclear power station with today’s technology would have to be near the coast to get cooling water, I do not know of a coastal community that wants one, and I can understand that. I do not know of a farmer who wants a mine on their property unless, by fluke, they are looking to move on for one reason or another anyway. I do not know—and this is a tough area, and I will come back to this—a farmer who wants a mine on a neighbouring property. That is actually the hardest part of all to deal with, and I really do understand that.
I will say quite openly that this is a very broad generalisation, but it helps to frame the bigger picture. Croppers and graziers often say, ‘We were here first. We live here. We have been here for generations. Food is more important than minerals. Food can be grown continuously, but mining products are only ever harvested once.’ Both business and lifestyle are impacted when mining comes into close proximity to a farm. All those things are true in the mind of the person who owns or works on an agricultural property or in a business which he or she thinks is under threat. For that person, it is true. People are not making this stuff up.
Miners often say—again a broad generalisation—’We have exploration and/or mining rights under law and we are entitled to them.’ They say, ‘We use less land and generate more profit than farming. We can make a bigger difference in a shorter period of time to local jobs or the economy or whatever it happens to be. Our industry supports a wider range of other service industries. Mining is not what it used to be with regard to safety and people. It is not the bad old days anymore. We can do it really well now, we can do it efficiently and we can do it safely with regard to people and the environment.’
Mineral resources are necessary for so many other industries without which our state, our nation and our world would be in big trouble. Again, for the mining company, or the person who works in a mining company who wants their project to go ahead, who believes deeply in their industry, for that person all those things I have mentioned are true. As a general rule, people are not making up arguments for the sake of argument. There are some people who do that, but they are in the vast minority. People believe what they are saying and they believe what they are submitting with regard to this very important issue.
We have had an interesting geographic rearrangement. Everybody here would know that many decades ago mining in the Adelaide Hills very close to the CBD was a very significant industry in South Australia. Many people would know that a little bit farther out mines are still operating, near Strathalbyn, for example, and other places. I will not go through all of them for fear of offending somebody because I did not think of them, but half a dozen mines are operating quite close to Adelaide. Over the last few decades it has been largely an outback issue. As I said before, there is less conflict in the outback and so there has been less friction on this issue overall.
As technology has improved in both the mining and the agriculture sectors, mining is starting to come back geographically closer and closer to the CBD and, as I said before, back more frequently into higher rainfall, more productive areas of the state. If the miner sees a great opportunity in a closer country area, but the farmer sees greater opportunity potentially at risk in that closer country area, naturally that sets up an environment where there is going to be more friction. The miner sees more opportunity, the farmer sees more risk and it is natural that it goes that way.
We are all people, and I think that it is very important to remember in all the things we do in this place that we are working to try to get better outcomes for people, and people’s input into these solutions is offered at a very human level, and that includes personal interest. There is nothing wrong with a person putting forward an argument based on their personal interests. As long as it is done in an objective way, people are allowed to stick up for their personal interests.
A lot of existing landholders think that they are being forced out and a lot of existing miners think that they are being excluded, and it is quite a challenge. Miners think that they are being denied really important opportunities. Miners, of course, want to make money and they use the argument, ‘This is for the state. This is for the region,’ and that is true and part of what we are dealing with. Both claim often that it is the thin edge of the wedge. Farming communities often say, ‘But if we allow this one mine, if we allow this to happen here, they will be everywhere. There will be lots and lots of them. We don’t really object to this mine, but we just don’t want lots and lots of them, so we are going to try to stop it right here.’
Miners take the same approach. They say, ‘Well, if we allow you to stop this one, we don’t want to do them all over the state, we don’t want to do them all over this region, but if we allow you to stop us here we will never get the next one up, or the next one or the next one.’ Again, it is human nature and there are a lot of similarities on both sides of this argument. I would like to touch upon the principle that is put forward that mining should not happen in high-value land or in highly productive land.
If I had a farm that was high value and highly productive, I would use that argument, too, if I did not want my operation to be impacted by mining, but I offer a word of caution to people who choose that argument: if you really do want to focus on high value or high productivity, agriculture will not beat mining. Mining will beat agriculture on that argument. I am not saying that is the argument that should be used, but I do offer that as a word of caution.
I would also suggest that probably the highest value agricultural land anywhere in the state right now is the 20 hectares of land under four greenhouses just south of Port Augusta where Sundrop Farms have started their operation. They produce 10,000 tonnes, I think it is, of tomatoes every year for Coles. While I have not done the analysis, I believe that would be the highest value land use for agriculture in the state right now.
I ask people to please be careful of that, because most other people in what would typically be considered to be more productive, higher value land would think that mining up there somewhere would probably all be okay. Again I say to please be cautious about that high value argument, because it can be a trap.
The impacts of drought are very important as well. I said earlier that both industries deal with cyclical prices. Farming has an extra challenge, a really big, significant challenge. While the prices for what they produce are moving up and down in a way out of their control, their productivity is moving up and down in a way out of their control very often. One of the things that makes a farming area better is that it does not change as much as some of the other areas. I used Wilmington as an example earlier. It changes there more often than it does if you are another 200 kilometres south, 100 kilometres from Adelaide, for example; it is far more reliable.
There is still a huge impact from that variability of weather, and even very successful farmers or very successful farming families on terrific land who have done everything right and who really are top-notch operators can still find it extremely difficult when the seasons turn. Nobody has a bottomless bank account to see them through tough times.
The reason I mention this, apart from wanting to be sure that everybody here is familiar with the types of personal issues we are dealing with, is that people’s attitudes to mining change, depending on their personal circumstances. If a person has a job in Adelaide and is quite secure and gets to go home every night to their family, and they earn a living they are satisfied with, and broadly speaking their life and their circumstances are good by their own personal assessment, it is probably not very attractive to go and work one week on one week off, or two weeks on two weeks off—maybe longer—away from home in a mine.
I can understand that. Why would you not want to be at home every night with your wife and your kids, your family, your friends, sporting clubs and churches and all the things that most of us enjoy in our life, whatever it happens to be? Of course you would rather that but, if you lose your job and you do not think that your chances of getting another job are very good, going and working away in a mine becomes very attractive very quickly for a lot of people. I am generalising, but it is very true with regard to land access.
When things are going great in your agricultural business, why would you want a mine to come along and wreck it all for you? Of course you would not, but do you know what? If you get five or 10 years into a drought and a mine is offering you some form of compensation or some benefit for you that would help see you through—and that might be in a monetary way, it might be in providing a service, it might be in providing infrastructure, it could be in a whole range of things; it might even be in the fact that there are going to be some extra jobs in your district, and you would like to have one of those—it is quite natural for farmers to then say, ‘Actually, maybe this mine isn’t so bad.’
I am not saying that everybody would want it. Some people would want it after one year of drought. Some people would not want it until after 10 years of drought, but these are the types of things that impact on people’s assessments of what they think is good or bad or fair or unfair or what should happen or should not happen. I say again that these are real-world issues and, for almost everybody, whatever they put forward is true and real for them, and that does need to be recognised.
I said before that I would rather not live near a mine, so I really do get it. I have never lived on a farm, so I can only imagine. I live in the middle of a small town and I like it that way. It is really lovely; it is a lovely, beautiful, quiet place. But if I had grown up on a farm and if my father and mother or my grandparents or cousins or uncles had grown up on a farm, if it had been in my upbringing and in my psyche all my life that this was home, not only for me but for my predecessors and for my successors, I would not want that changed either. It is a very real-world thing.
I really do understand that there are so many different aspects here, but if I were a miner and I had a legal right, so long as I did it responsibly, to seek permission to harvest the mineral resources under the ground, I would not want somebody telling me, ‘No, I don’t like it, so you can’t.’ If I were a miner, and I am not and I never have been and I doubt I ever will be—actually that is not true, Deputy Speaker. I need to correct that. I have actually had two opal mining claims in my name and I will go into that another time on another day, if you want to.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Nothing to do with the bill, nothing to do with the present.
Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: Technically I was an explorer not a miner but I had better be very sure that the record is accurate. In the broadest sense, I have never been a miner but I would not like it if people said, ‘I just don’t like what you do, so I want to impede your legal right to seek permission to responsibly harvest those resources.’
The other thing I would like to say is that it is impossible for the government, impossible for the opposition and impossible for anybody on either side of this argument, or in the middle of it, to deal with unreasonable people. I have already said two or three times that overwhelmingly people are reasonable, but there is a small sliver of people who say, ‘I don’t care what you think. I’m going mining regardless. It’s my right and I will just bulldoze and pay lawyers and do whatever I need to do to make it happen. Get out of my way.’ That is a very tiny fraction.
There are also people on the other side who say, ‘I don’t care what your rights are. This is my home, it always has been and it always will be. You are not coming. There is absolutely no way that I will consider the possibility.’ Again, it is a very small sliver of people involved. In my opinion, those people on both sides of the argument actually deal themselves out of the debate. It does not matter which side they are on: they deal themselves out of the debate.
I am not saying that a person should not have ‘must haves’ or ‘must not haves’ within what they are seeking, but if you turn up to say, ‘I don’t care what anybody thinks, I’m doing it,’ or, ‘I don’t care what anybody thinks, it’s not going to happen,’ then you have surrendered your opportunity to be part of a responsible debate about how to find a good outcome. As I said before, if you cannot find a good outcome after trying to go about it responsibly, let’s deal with that then but let’s at least start to try. It is a very important point for me personally at least when it comes to trying to look at this and many other things.
It is also very important to point out that the government says that nothing in this bill is intended to change any party’s existing rights. I think that is a pretty good and pretty safe place to start. I think many stakeholders on either side of the argument would disagree with that in some areas, but that is what the government says its intention is. The government says that the bill is all about streamlining the process associated with explorers and miners gaining access to land or being denied access to land for their projects as well as being about environmental issues and, very importantly, Aboriginal heritage issues and a range of other things.
This is important because the streamlining is important. Even if a person, after fair process, is going to end up with a result that they are dissatisfied with, let’s make it take one year, not five years. Let’s make it take three years, not 10 years. It is no good for anybody, whether it is through missed opportunity or whether it is through dragging out the pain, whoever is the winner or the loser, or the more satisfied or the less satisfied. Let’s not drag it out.
Streamlining this is very important for both sides of the argument. If a miner is going to be denied permission to access land, let that company find out sooner rather than later. If the company is going to be given access to land against the wishes of the landholder, let that person find out sooner rather than later. I am not saying that anybody will like the outcome better, but let’s not torture people through the process if we can possibly avoid it.
Whether there is a dispute or not, we need to deal with these things as quickly as possible, even if everybody is comfortable. Even if, let’s say, it is a fairly remote pastoral lease and a miner with a great reputation and great talents in many ways comes along and everybody is comfortable, let’s get on with that as quickly as possible. Let the benefits flow. Let’s try to get DSD to be as efficient as possible, even when there is a minimal amount of dispute, because it does happen that people come to agreements quite quickly, too. It is not only bad stuff that we are dealing with.
There are also different layers to this land access issue, as I have mentioned a few times, to prospect or to explore versus to actually mine. There are very important distinctions in the act as it exists and the act as it will be, if it is changed with this bill. Another very important point is, even if a miner owns the land freehold, there is still a very important process to go through. The mining company that owns the freehold land does not own the mineral resources that are under the ground, in the same way as the farmer or the household does not own those resources. The mining company still must go through a process.
There is one that is very topical at the moment. I will not raise it—others might—but there is a live example, as we speak, of a miner who has really tried to be responsible and said, ‘We want to pursue this project here. We will buy all of this land. We will own it freehold so that we can try to absorb as many of the impacts as possible and try to save as many other people from as many impacts as possible.’ I think that is a very responsible approach but, of course, that is not enough to get to go mining. You still need to deal with a wide range of environmental, neighbour, business, economic, and potentially Aboriginal heritage issues. Even the miner who owns the land does not own the resources. There is still a process that needs to be gone through.
I want to discuss neighbours a bit. I touched on it before and I said that I would come back to it. To me, this is one of the hardest areas. If you own the land and you do not want to go, as it has been in your family for a long time, and you hate everything about this project coming, you can probably still come to some arrangement—even an arrangement that you are dissatisfied with—and you can probably come to it without legislation. You might need some legal support on both sides. You might need some facilitation process, but your chance of coming to an agreement is much greater if it is your land and your business where the mining project is proposed to be.
While you might not like the agreement, your chance of just reaching an agreement is much greater than if you are one of the neighbours. Maybe a neighbour could just sell out and say, ‘I am happy to go. I don’t want to live here anymore. I will lease my land and somebody else can farm it or the mining company can buy it,’ or whatever, but the opportunity to do the deal for the neighbour is significantly lower than it is for the owner of the land where the project is. The influence that the neighbour has in the negotiation is significantly lower than it is for the owner of the property where the project is proposed to go. I have gigantic sympathy for those neighbours.
This is not just to do with mining. This can be to do with wind farms or a whole range of other issues, such as ports. There is a long list of neighbours who are affected but who do not have really strong rights when it comes to negotiating changes or seeking compensation. That is the toughest part of this, and for me it is the part that really needs the biggest change in terms of the way we go about our work setting rules as a broader parliament. I believe this area still has a long way to go with regard to the existing act and bill. It is a huge issue for people who are negatively impacted but cannot lobby for themselves enough to address that negative impact.
I also want to give another example, on the flipside, of a neighbour. I was at a community meeting—it does not matter where, but it was in South Australia—where a mine is being proposed. There is already agriculture within the area (specifically, vineyards) and another person in attendance was a grazier. I was talking to the grazier and asked, ‘What do you think about this potential mine? Clearly, all the grapegrowers are vehemently opposed to it, so you might be, too. You want to access underground water, you want your lifestyle to be good, you want your cattle to be happy and all those sorts of things.’
He said, ‘Put it in context. The grapegrowers are angry about the mine coming because they think the mine is going to affect their underground water, their lifestyle and their business. I didn’t like it when the grapegrowers came. We used to have all grazing around here; we did not have any grapes. Those grapegrowers have come in and they have changed the landscape entirely. There are roads and trucks all over the place, and tourists come in all the time. They have sucked more water out from under the ground than I ever did in my grazing operation. I didn’t like it when the grapegrowers turned up, but we have found a way to get on, and we are friends. We are fine and we have a lovely district.’
That person was saying that he did not have a great deal of sympathy for the grapegrowers, who now do not want the miners to turn up. I am not saying that anybody is right or wrong in that argument, but it is another illustration of how the real-world perspectives of different people are very important. Apart from striking the right balance between the rights of different parties, the biggest issue that we need to deal with is uncertainty, which is why this work is so important.
There is still great uncertainty in this bill as we have it at the moment. There is uncertainty for people because, while we have the bill, we do not have the regulations. I am reminded of the Firearms Act, which we changed. The government came in once during the last term of government, when I was shadow minister for police. We went through all the debate and they said, ‘We are going to stop. We haven’t done our homework. We cannot proceed; we are not going to do it.’ They came back with a much better bill in this current term of government. While I was not shadow minister at that time, I still took great interest in it.
The most difficult aspect of that debate was that, while the bill was pretty good, at the point in time in which we needed to make a decision about it in parliament, the regulations were unknown to anybody outside perhaps the police, the minister’s office and others who had a bit of a draft in their heads. We have exactly the same situation here. I know a lot of people from the agriculture side of this debate who say, ‘I guess I’m not thrilled but I could live with what I see in the bill, but I cannot support the bill until I know what the regulations are. I cannot accept this, with so much left open and hanging, and so much up to whomever is in government after the next election to decide without reference to parliament.’ That makes great sense; there is huge uncertainty there.
There is uncertainty with regard to the government’s consultation process. There is uncertainty with that because it is actually still ongoing. We are asked to debate this bill in parliament and the government’s own consultation process is still ongoing, so that creates a great deal of uncertainty.
I can say because it is true that the South Australian Chamber of Mines and Energy (SACOME) have certainly told me that they are comfortable with how things sit. Please do not take that as them thinking they have won. That is not the case. I know that they think they have compromised and sacrificed as well, but it is fair to put on the record that they are comfortable with this bill. As the shadow minister for mining, it is very important for me to have that conversation with them and to talk with them about that.
The government says that generally all other stakeholders are comfortable with where the bill has landed as well. They do not say ‘everybody’. To the government and to the individual people who have worked hard on this, what they are saying is that, generally speaking, people are comfortable with the compromise that has been reached. They are saying openly that not everybody has everything they want—I am not putting those words in the government’s mouth—but they are saying very clearly, and there are quite a few glossy brochures along these lines, that generally people are pretty comfortable with the bill as it stands as a result of the consultation.
But there is uncertainty about that because a significant number of people have come to me and my colleagues and said that they are not comfortable with the compromises in the bill. The government’s comfortable with the compromise it has reached on behalf of all stakeholders, but not all the stakeholders agree. The government does not get to choose what overall compromise is appropriate: the parliament does that. That is what this debate is about. I know that many members on my side of the chamber have contributions to make because we want parliament to work. We want to get it right. We support the government in its effort to improve the processes in the real world that are delivered by the three acts and the subsequent regulations.
My colleagues and I want what is best for all stakeholders, as I am sure the government does, and for our electorates, the environment and the state as a whole. We really do want what is best. In case anybody thought it might be the case, we are not going to have a shadow minister say, ‘I will just do whatever I can to help the mining industry,’ or a country and outback MP saying, ‘I am just going to do whatever I can to help the farmers.’ There is nobody on my side of the chamber who is going to take that attitude. In our roles as members with responsibilities to our electorates, our portfolios and the state more broadly, we are all going to contribute our minds and our hearts to this in the very best way we can to get what is best for the people we represent and the state.
We are told by the government that, on balance, stakeholders are happy. As time goes on, more and more stakeholders are coming to us and saying that they are not. To hark back to something I said before, maybe some people are working on the must-haves and they are dissatisfied that a must-have for them is not in the deal. Maybe some people are coming out trying to push the boat out a bit further. They see an opportunity to improve their position, or maybe it is an ambit claim. We get that, we really do get that, but in all of that there is still some uncertainty. I have been told by some stakeholders that they are still waiting for or have slowly, unacceptably slowly in their minds, received responses from the government to some of their requests or submissions.
One organisation, which I will not name but people will know it, received a response only yesterday to a very significant letter that they put forward. They are frustrated, they are very frustrated, that they received a response yesterday to issues that are incredibly important to them. They want to be part of the consultation process. They want to feed their views into the government, the opposition and no doubt crossbenchers in the other chamber as well, but they are only just getting the responses they believe they need from the government. That makes this process very difficult and it creates uncertainty.
The government can do whatever it wants in this chamber. We know that, we are realists, we accept it. The government can bring legislation in, the government can take legislation off the agenda and the government can vote on anything it wants and create any outcome it wants in this place. I know they are entitled to do that, but I think it is inappropriate for the government to table legislation and want to vote on legislation in this house of parliament before the government’s own public consultation is completed. And who knows what will come out of that consultation?
Maybe that consultation will finish—I think it is on 14 November—and absolutely everybody will be happy and say, ‘Well, great, then let’s start on the 15th.’ Maybe nobody will be happy. We do not know what the result will be. However, to start the process and require a vote in this house of parliament before the consultation process is complete is inappropriate, and that is separate to mining or farming, or whatever the topic is. I do not think that is the right way to go.
There is public consultation, which I understand has a broad intended schedule for April or May on the regulations. People are coming to me and saying, ‘If the government has a rough idea when they are going to do that public consultation on the regulations, they probably already have a rough idea of how long it’s going to take them to develop those regulations. If they have a rough idea of where those regulations are going to go, why won’t they at least share with us the rough idea that they already have?’ I think that is a very fair question, too.
Many stakeholders have told me and my colleagues that they think this process is being rushed. The government started this process about 14 months ago, so I can understand that it might be frustrated after 14 months of doing this work. Anybody who is saying to them that the process is rushed I can understand must be very frustrating. By the same token, the real people who are involved in this process, the real people who are going to have to live with the results of this process, are saying that they feel rushed.
After 14 months of work on this issue, it is quite fair that the government would have thought back in September last year, ‘Surely, that will be enough time. We know there is an election coming. Parliament started in September 2016 and will finish in November or December 2017, and we won’t have another chance until after the election. Who knows who will be in government then? Surely that 14 or 15 months, if we consider November as well, will be enough.’ Well, it was a miscalculation. I can understand how they made it, but it has turned out to be a miscalculation.
After 16 years in government, it will not be good enough for the government to say to stakeholders, who are uncomfortable with this bill as it stands, ‘We have to rush it through. We gave you 14 months. Surely, you know the times. Parliament is running out, and an election is coming,’ blah, blah, blah. ‘Don’t you guys drag the chain; we want to get this through.’ It will not be acceptable if the government says that, because the government has had 16 years to do this. The current minister has been the mining minister for about seven years. The government has had a very long time to do this work. If the government has run out of time, it is the government’s fault.
As I said, we in the opposition will not slow this matter down in this house. There is a huge workload in the other chamber already, as we know. That is their business. Even within our broader Liberal Party meetings, our Legislative Council colleagues take their right to run their work in their place. They work with the crossbenchers and they work with the government. We will not slow this legislation down. There is nothing in my mind about slowing it down. But if, after 16 years in government, they cannot get this through in time, it will be only the government’s fault. In fact, one government member told me this morning that he or she did not think there would be enough time to get this bill through both houses of parliament before our parliament is prorogued in advance of the election.
There is a key issue to all of this, which I know my colleagues will touch on. I do not intend to go into great detail on too many of the nitty-gritty aspects of the bill because I do want to go through the committee stage and have the opportunity to ask questions before sharing too many judgements on the specifics of the bill. However, there is one area that I am going to touch on, and that is this issue of exempt land versus restricted land. As with many of these issues, it is a vexed issue.
The government essentially says, ‘It has been called exempt, but it is not really exempt, so we are going to call it restricted because that more accurately reflects the way the act works and it more accurately reflects the real world situation.’ That makes good sense, but people who own the land or use the land in one way or another for agriculture say, ‘Hang on, it was called exempt before, but it wasn’t exempt. Now, if you are going to call it restricted, it probably won’t be restricted either.’ Quite understandably, they think that they are being slid along the scale.
The government says, ‘We just want a more accurate description,’ but people who are concerned say, ‘We have had a worse deal already out of the word that exists,’ and if you move down that sliding scale and you open up more opportunities through a different word then they think they are going to get a worse deal out of a worse word, if that makes sense. I have great sympathy for that view because this is one of the absolute critical issues: what can a landholder stop, what can a landholder not stop and what must a landholder negotiate on with a mining company? Of course, the same is true for the miner: what can you do, what can you not do and what must you negotiate on?
I have to say very openly and clearly to the government that, while I understand why it might have made sense in an office building somewhere here in the Adelaide CBD to change that word, out in the broader world, in rural areas, it has not made any sense at all and I think it has actually inflamed the debate. It has given people fear that they did not need to have.
There are many other concerns that have come to us, but I did want to touch on that one because it is not only a very real-world technical issue that flows through to really key nuts and bolts issues and also touches on the emotional, the heartfelt or the fear and concern side of the issue, as so many things do. I am not saying that the opposition will support every concern that comes to us either. We will work through them. I am not saying at all that everybody who comes to me or one of my colleagues and says, ‘I am worried about this,’ whichever side of the argument they are on, that we will automatically say, ‘Oh, good. We will fix that for you and that for you.’ We will try to consider all those issues as fully as we possibly can. I seek leave to continue my remarks.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN (Stuart) (15:45): When we ran out of time just before the lunch break, I was saying that the opposition is well aware of the concerns out there with regard to this bill. We are aware of the support for it, too, from certain quarters, but we are aware that there is still a great deal of concern about it. The point I was trying to make when time ran out—and I will restate it because it is very important—is that I am not saying that the opposition is going to take every single concern that comes to us and automatically support it. We will take every single concern that comes to us, thoroughly consider it and then make a decision on whether it is something we support or do not support. I had gone into the reasons why that would be appropriate in the bulk of my speech before we had to take a break.
The other thing I would like to put on the record is that during the lunch break I got some information from a government public servant who has been deeply involved in the delivery of this bill. It relates to my comments about exempt land versus restricted land. I was explaining that I can understand the government’s position of wanting to change the word from ‘exempt’ to ‘restricted’ because it never really meant exempt. It actually did mean restricted and that is the reason for the change. I also explained that that change has caused people a great deal of concern because when it said exempt, they felt they were getting less than exempt and so, if it is changed to restricted, they fear that they will then get less than restricted down the track.
The person sent a message to me that said that landowner submissions asked for that name change and now there has been an alleged change of sentiment from them. I just want to put that on the record. That was information that was shared with me, relevant to comments I made. I do appreciate the fact that that person gave that information to me. What that really means is that there is still a great deal of uncertainty out there. What that really means is that the consultation process is still ongoing. If that is the case, whether a few landowners or many of them or most of them asked for the change and then whether few or many or most have now expressed concern in that change, it really does make very clear that that is another example where the consultation has not come to an appropriate landing yet.
The opposition will not impede passage of the bill through the house or seek to amend it here. We will not cause any delay in the debate, but we will take the opportunity to learn more in the committee stage of the debate. We will not oppose the bill in this house and we will use the time between the houses, the information gained here in committee, the outcomes of the public consultation sessions that the government is still running for another two weeks, the feedback from stakeholders and other information to determine whether we will support, oppose or seek to amend the bill in the upper house. The government has even filed amendments of its own since presenting the bill to parliament, which is a clear sign that their work on the bill is not complete and there may even be more amendments to come from the government.
I want the potential benefits of this bill to be made available to all stakeholders as soon as possible, but I also want to be sure that the bill is as good as possible for all stakeholders and, given that most amendments the opposition moves are rejected by the government in this house, we will finalise our position between the houses. The opposition will not oppose the passage of this bill in this debate in this house. We will allow a vote to go ahead at the completion of the debate, including the committee stage, and reserve our right to make changes, as I said, between the houses.