Changes to Mining Act provides certainty for opal mining industry
Minister for Natural Resources Courtney Houssos today introduced to parliament the Mining Amendment (Mineral Claim – Opals) Bill 2023. This is the latest step to address issues regarding the invalidity of mineral claims associated with opal mining.
The bill addresses a failure to comply with section 266(4) of the Mining Act 1992. It retrospectively validates opal mineral claims in the Lightning Ridge and White Cliffs areas issued between 1 January 2015 and 13 February 2023.
Changes to the Mining Act were required following a Department of Regional NSW review of administrative processes. The review uncovered 3343 minerals claims impacted by invalid decisions, including 1230 invalidly granted licences to 827 opal miners in Lightning Ridge and 31 opal miners in White Cliffs.
In June, Minister Houssos met with opal miners in Lightning Ridge and announced a comprehensive refund scheme covering administrative fees and levies.
To date, $548,000 has been refunded to opal miners. 688 mineral claims have been redetermined by staff from the Department of Regional NSW.
The bill introduced today reinstates the previous understanding of all affected parties that the mineral claims were valid and remedies potential legal consequences associated with affected mineral claims.
The introduction of the bill will complement the administrative validation program which is currently being delivered by the Department of Regional NSW.
The bill protects miners and landholders by ensuring that:
- The conditions of the affected mineral claims can be enforced, including rehabilitation requirements, and compliance action can still be undertaken. This will allow the department to ensure appropriate remediation occurs.
- The money collected in relation to affected mineral claims is valid. This includes money paid to landholders as compensation under the Mining Act and fees, levies and duties.
- A person who had a mineral claim transferred or devolved to them is not unduly disadvantaged.
The bill demonstrates the NSW Government's commitment to supporting the opal mining community and ensuring the sector in Lightning Ridge and White Cliffs can operate with confidence and certainty.
Minister Houssos has previously announced a review into the current statutory framework for administration and regulation of small-scale opal titles. It will provide independent analysis and make recommendations about the future of the industry, including proposed legislative and policy reform. Further details on the review will be released by the end of the year.
Some affected mineral claims holders will still be encouraged to have their claims redetermined by the Department to ensure all records and conditions are current and fit for purpose.
Minerals claims in some areas of White Cliffs will require further action regarding native title before they are resolved.
Minister for Natural Resources Courtney Houssos said:
'This is a legacy issue that dates back to 2015 and is another example of mismanagement by the previous Liberal and National government.
'The bill provides clarity and stability to the affected stakeholders in the opal mining industry.
'I encourage miners who still haven’t had their licenses revalidated to contact Mining, Exploration and Geoscience.'