Miners’ big dig at government over exploration code of conduct

The state’s peak mining body has criticised the state government over a new Code of Conduct for Explorers, claiming it increases red tape and “suggests opportunism and a profound lack of understanding of established processes”.

Feb 07, 2023, updated Feb 07, 2023
SA's peak mining industry body fears a new code will stifle investment. Photo: Shutterstock

SA's peak mining industry body fears a new code will stifle investment. Photo: Shutterstock

The South Australian Chamber of Mines and Energy (SACOME) said the government’s decision to forge ahead with code of good practice engagement guidelines, released yesterday without its support, “suggests opportunism”.

It claims the code of conduct will duplicate existing guidelines, increase red tape and costs, stifle investment and fail to improve land access outcomes.

“The government should recognise the significant changes to the Mining Act that were implemented in 2021,” said SACOME chief executive Rebecca Knol, whose industry body has about 200 member companies.

She said the resources sector is the backbone of the state’s economy and supports over 44,000 jobs but added that while the sector is currently at the peak of the commodity cycle, “this will not last forever”.

“Government should know that more red tape will stifle investment,” she said.

“Implementation of this code suggests opportunism and a profound lack of understanding of established processes.”

Energy and Mining Minister Tom Koutsantonis outlined the new Code of Conduct yesterday, saying it would support explorers in developing stakeholder engagement methods, ways to demonstrate biosecurity risk management, along with ways to minimise the impact of exploration activities.

The code also provided “a guide to good faith agreement making and information sharing”, and incorporated feedback from discussions with the exploration, mining and agriculture sector representatives.

Knol said the minerals, energy, extractives plus oil and gas sectors sectors SACOME represents are also concerned the government will eventually make the code for exploration and mining companies mandatory.

She said the code duplicates existing efforts well established by South Australian mining companies well aware of the importance of early, respectful and meaningful engagement with landowners and key stakeholders.

“The government has ignored the state’s peak association that represents companies with decades long experience in land access matters in South Australia and forged ahead with the release of a document that creates more red tape for no benefit,” she said.

“To support its view the government has cherry picked two WA-based companies with extremely limited activity in South Australia and simplistic landowner engagement requirements. This does not represent reality and is completely disingenuous.”

Koutsantonis spruiked the new code in a statement yesterday saying it aimed to promote transparency and “in an Australian first” provided an assessment framework for companies to review their performance.

Koutsantonis said the code is voluntary and is supported by the national Association of Mining and Exploration Companies, along with IGO Limited and junior explorer Coda Minerals.

Perth-headquartered exploration company Coda Minerals owns the Elizabeth Creek Copper Project about 30km south east of Woomera in SA, while Perth-headquartered IGO Ltd has several national projects including two in SA.

Coda Minerals chief executive Chris Stevens said his company was “pleased to be involved in the development of the voluntary Code of Conduct to support the South Australian minerals exploration sector”.

“Strong policy is the lifeblood of enabling minerals exploration and driving discovery in the world’s premier exploration jurisdiction,” he said in the Minister’s release.

“Coda looks forward to continuing to be an integral part of South Australia’s exploration and mineral development story.”

The Perth-headquartered Association of Mining and Exploration Companies claims on its website to be the leading voice of Australia’s mineral exploration and mining industry with more than 540 member companies across Australia and “over 37 member companies with direct project interests in South Australia”.

Koutsantonis said the code was specifically designed to improve relations between explorers and landowners so they can get on with developing the state’s critical minerals sector for the future.

“South Australia is leading in fostering transparency and better engagement standards, and recognises the importance of the resources sector to our economy and a renewable energy future,” he said.

Knol said the SA resources sector fully supported best practice communication and community engagement.

However, focus on land access communication should be between a company and their community, not the government, adding that SACOME believed open and transparent engagement is considered core business by mineral explorers.

“The government should go back to the drawing board and come back with revised changes that have support from the companies that have real experience in land access matters,” she said.

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A statement from SACOME said the industry authored the first land access guidelines in SA for best practice minerals exploration in 2014.

Guidance was updated in 2020, and SACOME worked with the Landowner Advisory Service to ensure landowners had easy access to engagement checklists.

Reporting requirements in the code are a material duplication of compliance work already required under the Act, the statement said.

The Association of Mining and Exploration has an advisory committee in SA “formed around a core group of members with an investment in mineral exploration and mining in the relevant jurisdiction”.

National chief executive officer Warren Pearce said the organisation welcomed the code launch.

“We were pleased to be able to work with the Department of Energy and Mining, and industry, to support best-practice early and ongoing engagement across South Australia,” Pearce said.

“South Australia has the minerals the world needs to decarbonise, and this code details what effective engagement and relationship-building looks like to streamline the discovery of future mines.”

Koutantonis said on Tuesday morning that the government consulted widely on its voluntary code through multiple rounds of engagement, with SACOME the only interest group expressing concerns.

“We have taken some of the issues they have raised on board prior to the final drafting of the code, with improvements made to alleviate stated concerns,” he said.

However, he claimed some issues now being raised were not said during the consultation process.

“We will continue to liaise with SACOME, which instituted its own Code of Conduct in 2019,” he said.

“However, this is an entirely voluntary code that is simply designed to help primarily junior exploration companies adopt practices that will assist their own engagement efforts.”

Koutsantonis said the code was not a burden to industry and would not stifle investment.

“It is simply a tool to provide clear good practice actions for exploration companies to undertake when carrying out exploration projects on landowner property,” he said.

“The code is a voluntary code, and will remain as such – it focuses on specific standards of good practice minerals exploration conduct when working with landowners.”

He added that it is “unfortunate to see SACOME passing comment on exploration companies that are seeking to establish themselves in SA”.

“IGO is operating in the remote western region of South Australia and is a main frontier explorer leading the push into new parts of South Australia.

“Coda Minerals is a respected explorer with active projects in multiple tenements in South Australia’s highly prospective Gawler Craton and is a trusted supporter of the South Australian Government through its appointment to South Australia’s Mining and Energy Advisory Council,” he said.

“Just because these companies are not members of SACOME does not mean they’re not welcome here.”

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