For the first time, pastoral landholders in the Northern Territory have been provided with the right to negotiate access agreements with mining, oil and gas companies before they enter their land for significant exploration purposes.
The NT Government announced a new process for mandatory land access agreements on Monday, which it says strikes a balance between the rights of resource companies to explore and the rights of pastoralists to be advised, informed and consulted before exploration begins.
Chief minister Adam Giles said mining, petroleum and agriculture were all critical to the ongoing economic development of the Northern Territory and the new process would help the different sectors to work together.
The new process includes:
- The establishment of a land access agreement for those exploration activities considered to create more disturbance and requires the lodgement of a Mining Management Plan or Petroleum Environment Plan;
- If agreement over conditions for land access cannot be reached within 60 days by mutual consent, the matter will be referred to an arbitration panel to be made up of high level government and industry representatives;
- The arbitration panel will arbitrate between the parties for a successful agreement within 21 days of the formation of the panel;
- Once agreement has been reached, the Department of Mines and Energy may approve the Mining Management Plan or Petroleum Environment Plan.
“From a handshake to a fully documented process, this process recognises that individual property managers, mining and petroleum companies need more than a ‘one size fits all’ approach,” Mr Giles said.
“Pastoralists will be provided with the opportunity to gain early knowledge of what may be planned by the explorer, and for both parties to discuss appropriate shared land-use arrangements that allow respective activities to take place without undue inconvenience or disruption.”
Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association CEO Tracey Hayes said the Giles Government had listened to the concerns raised by the pastoral industry and the broader community.
“Access agreements will give pastoralists a greater say over what happens on their land and their capacity to manage things such as access, water resources, biosecurity, soil erosion and relationships when miners and oil and gas companies enter their properties,” Ms Hayes said.
The new arrangements make it mandatory for both parties to agree on conditions of access on fundamental issues including weed management, fire, water, biosecurity, chemical use, erosion control and livestock and human health and wellbeing.
While the new arrangements were a significant step, they did not provide a right of veto over exploration or extraction.
“The Chief Minister has shown great leadership, against a culture of resistance, to listen to concerns raised by pastoralists, landholders and the broader community. It also is an acknowledgement of the need to ensure the integrity of the pastoral and food production industry for generations to come,” said NTCA President Tom Stockwell.
“Until now there has been no requirement for any agreement and pastoralists have had little capacity to manage their land, animals and livelihoods when mining and resource companies arrive on the doorstep.
“This sets a baseline for how relationships will be managed and the rights of pastoralists and resource companies will be clarified and more secure. We think it is an opportunity that provides greater certainty for the mining, oil and gas sector and the pastoral industry which will be here for many generations to come.”
The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association and the Minerals Council of Australia – NT Division, also welcomed today’s announcement.
APPEA Director Steven Gerhardy said the process would help deliver positive outcomes for pastoralists and petroleum explorers seeking access to their properties.
“Under the new process, both parties will be required to reach a land access agreement prior to the approval and commencement of exploration activities,” he said.
Drew Wagner, the Executive Director of the Minerals Council of Australia – NT Division, said the new process to develop land access agreements will allow all parties to know exactly where they stand.
“As mining is the second largest industry in the Territory, contributing almost $2.7 billion to the economy, it is critical that certainty is created to allow for greater investment, and we can see growth of this and the pastoral sector in the future on behalf of all Territorians across leasehold land,” Mr Wagner said.
Mr Giles said the continuing good relations between landholders and explorers required recognition of the rights and responsibilities of both parties and establishing good communication.
“Access agreements will provide a mechanism for certainty for resource companies and for pastoralists who will continue to manage the land for many generations to come,” he said.
“All resources (minerals, oil and gas) are owned by the Territory and the Territory has the right to authorise the exploitation of those resources.
“All Territorians also benefit from royalties paid by companies and the economic development associated with these resources.
“Today’s announcement highlights the importance of both the resources and the agriculture sectors to the future economic prosperity of the Territory.”
Source: NT Government, NTCA