Small miners in the northern Goldfields are concerned they could be signing away their rights to a WA pastoral company owned by one of the world’s largest conglomerates, which is requesting they put pen to paper on private agreements to remove objections to their leases.
Prospectors claim Minara Pastoral Holdings, which owns four cattle stations in the Northern Goldfields and is a subsidiary of Murrin Murrin Nickel Mine owner Minara Resources, is launching frivolous objections to delay tenement applications and requesting prospectors sign “access deeds” to have them dropped.
They argue the agreement is heavily weighted in favour of the pastoral company, which is ultimately owned by Switzerland-based resources juggernaut Glencore, placing obligations on them not required by State law.
A copy of one proposed deed, obtained by the Kalgoorlie Miner, shows Minara is promising to remove objections to a tenement overlapping one of its pastoral leases if the applicant agrees to a range of clauses including taking out a public liability insurance policy, and promising to indemnify the pastoralist for property damage.
It also includes a clause requesting the applicant pay the pastoralist “substantiated and reasonable legal costs associated with the negotiation, preparation, and execution” of the deed of up to $1500.
One prospector, who requested to be kept anonymous, said he feels the agreement amounts to “extortion”, but that he knew some prospectors were signing it to avoid the stress and cost of spending months fighting the objections in the Warden’s Court.
The Kalgoorlie Miner understands Minara’s argument is that it sees private agreements as a legal safeguard in response to a perceived increase in non-compliant activity from miners, including damage to infrastructure.
In a statement, Minara Resources said it lodged objections based on individual circumstances and that the pastoral company wanted to co-exist with miners.
“These are working stations and our primary concern is ensuring pastoral operations are not unduly affected by mining operations and that infrastructure is respected and not interfered with,” the company said.
“We believe a majority of pastoral objections, including those by Minara Pastoral Holdings, are usually resolved by way of access agreements designed to ensure that the miner and pastoralist’s co-existing rights can be exercised without conflict and undue impacts.”
But both the representative body for WA prospectors and the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety noted compensation and protections for pastoral leaseholders are already built into WA’s mining laws.
Amalgamated Prospectors and Leaseholders Association president Les Lowe said his organisation’s members had been suffering hardship from increasing “activism” by pastoral companies across the Goldfields in recent years, which he claimed were clogging up the Warden’s Court system with their objections.
“There is a system under the Mining Act under which pastoralists can claim compensation from mining activities, but they don’t seem to be interested in using that,” he said.
“They seem to be interested in just transferring a whole set of rights from the prospector to the pastoralist.
“The question needs to be asked, when adequate protection is provided under the terms of the Mining Act, why are these pastoral companies doing what they’re doing?”
DMIRS resource tenure executive director Rick Rogerson said there is “no legal basis” for the access deeds under the provisions of the Mining Act, but noted it was an “emerging practice”.
He acknowledged DMIRS had seen a rise in objections to tenement applications over the past 12 to 18 months, largely from pastoral lessees north of Kalgoorlie.
The Minara complaints come on top of similar disputes over pastoral objections between prospectors and Zenith Australia Investment Holdings, owned by Chinese real estate group Shanghai CRED, which bought four Goldfields pastoral leases in 2016.
The Kalgoorlie Miner contacted Zenith for comment.