FARMERS, landholders, local members and industry groups have welcomed an adjournment of the debate on proposed amendments to the Mining Act 1971, following four Liberal MPs spectacularly crossing the floor in Parliament on Tuesday.
Member for Narungga Fraser Ellis, Member for MacKillop Nick McBride, Davenport MP Steve Murray and Kavel MP Dan Cregan voted with Labor for an adjournment of the Statutes Amendment (Mineral Resources) Bill debate until February 26 next year.
Mr Ellis said he reluctantly sat with the cross bench because he felt there hadn’t been enough “meaningful” consultation with his Yorke Peninsula constituents on amendments to the act.
This angst was highlighted by the 50-strong contingent of YP supporters that converged on the steps of Parliament House on Tuesday.
“I don’t oppose my party easily, but on the matter of farmland access rights and a mining bill that so closely resembles Labor’s version presented this time last year during harvest, I felt I had no choice,” Mr Ellis said.
“I was incredibly disappointed in the timing of the bill’s debate, also scheduled during harvest.
“By adjourning the bill, we have time to pursue amendments that can strengthen protections for landholders against being forced off their land by mining companies.”
Mr McBride agreed the lack of consultation left constituents “disenfranchised by the Liberal Party”.
He hoped the government would take the time to further consult and negotiate with stakeholders on the bill and find a balance “that we don’t believe the Labor Party did very well”.
“We need a compromise, where landowners have some rights and miners have obligations to meet and somehow work with farmers,” he said.
YP Landowners Group chair Joy Wundersitz said they mainly wanted to see changes to Section 9AA of the act, to provide farmers with the right to say no to mining exploration without a court hearing being “hung over our heads”.
“If they just removed the option of a court hearing, most of our other objections would be gone,” she said.
Grain Producers SA also welcomed the decision to adjourn debate until February, allowing more time to properly consider amendments to the act.
“We want greater certainty for primary producers through improved land access arrangements backed by regulation and do not support the Bill in its current form,” GPSA chief executive officer Caroline Rhodes said.
“We will draft potential amendments to the Bill over the summer break, aiming to build consensus for our policy positions before Parliament resumes in 2019.
“We hope the Minister uses this time to restore confidence in the legislative process by improving consultation with industry bodies.”
Mining Minister Dan van Holst Pellekaan said there was a “difference between not being consulted and not getting everything you want”.
“Since the bill was tabled on August 2, there has been an enormous amount of consultation, including meetings in Maitland in late September,” he said.
“But it is impossible to deliver everything that everybody wants. As the Mining Minister, I have to try and find the right balance between farmers and mining.”
Mr van Holst Pellekaan said the bill was “actually good for farmers, but they want it to be even better for them”.
“We are aware landholders want to improve the legal process when dealing with mining companies, so we have provided support from the small business commissioner, plus a range of up-front advice,” he said.
“I’m committed to – as soon as this bill is passed – starting on the next phase of benefits for landholders.”
Mr van Holst Pellekaan was frustrated that Labor said it would support the bill, but were now “playing politics” with the issue.
“Which means landholders will be delayed in receiving the benefits for them that exist in the bill,” he said.
Opposition mining spokesperson Tom Koutsantonis said blaming the Labor Party for this was the “last refuge of a scoundrel”.
“This is a war within the Liberal Party and nothing else,” he said.