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Assisting Primary Producers to Deal With Access to Their Land by Resource Companies

If elected in March 2018, a Marshall Liberal Government will provide additional funding to the Small Business Commissioner to undertake work on behalf of primary producers seeking advice about and resolution of land access issues involving resource companies.

The Problem

Our primary producers and our resource companies continue to make significant contributions to regional communities and the wider South Australian economy.

Historically, much of the exploration for and production of minerals, oil and gas in South Australia has been undertaken in pastoral areas where there have been few disputes between landholders and resource companies.

In more recent years however, there has been more exploration and production activity proposed by resource companies requiring access to agricultural land.

For many holders of agricultural land, being approached by a resource company can be stressful.

Most have little or no prior experience in dealing with explorers and miners and limited knowledge about the rights of the respective parties or who to turn to for advice.

Such situations are often exacerbated by the intrusion of people with anti- or pro-development attitudes from outside the directly affected area.

The Liberal Party has undertaken wide-ranging consultation about these issues which has identified the need for primary producers affected by potential disputes over land access to be able to access both:

  • Affordable advice and support which is independent of government
  • An advocate to help them when a dispute arises with a company proposing exploration or production from their land who can avoid the need and expense of immediately engaging a professional legal firm

The Weatherill Government is currently reviewing the Mining Act.

The Liberal Party has taken careful note of all of the submissions made to this review by individual primary producers, their organisations and on behalf of resource companies.

Our consultation has identified the clear need for landholders to have an independent advocate holding statutory authority powers to ensure that their rights are effectively represented and enforced where necessary.

In most cases, these disputes are seen to be between a small farming family and a large resource company in a much better financial position to be able to pursue legal remedies to disputes.

A submission by Primary Producers South Australia crystallised the issues requiring further action:

A major issue for landholders is what they should do when approached for access to explore. And these issues continue throughout the process, which can be expensive, stressful and confusing. PPSA feel that within Government there needs to be an Independent Office to whom landholders can go for consistent and fair advice. This should include advice on compensation issues – this should increase fairness and consistency, and reduce stress for those affected.

The State Liberals' Plan

If elected in March 2018, a Marshall Liberal Government will provide additional funding to the Small Business Commissioner to undertake work on behalf of primary producers seeking advice about and resolution of land access issues involving resource companies.

To support this work and dispute resolution, a Liberal Government will also prescribe an Industry Code.

The office of the Small Business Commissioner was established to support small businesses in dispute resolution.

Its existing functions include:

  • Receiving and investigating complaints by or on behalf of small businesses regarding their commercial dealings with other businesses, State of Local government agencies or bodies
  • Facilitating the resolution of such complaints through measures considered appropriate by the Commissioner. These include measures such as mediation services and making representations on behalf of small businesses
  • Disseminating information to small businesses to assist them in making decisions relevant to their commercial dealings with other businesses and their dealings with State and Local government bodies

These functions will enable the Small Business Commissioner to support the needs of primary producers in dealings with resource companies.

In addition, the Small Business Commissioner has the authority to monitor, investigate and enforce non-compliance with any Industry Code prescribed by the Minister for Small Business.

A Liberal Government will prescribe a Code of Conduct specifically dealing with land access issues between primary producers and resource companies to enable the Small Business Commissioner to fully and effectively implement the functions of the Office applicable to resolving such issues.

It is the role of government to provide clear guidelines, a structure for dispute resolution and an arbitration system which will deliver outcomes consistent with legal rights. Additional support is justified when there is an uneven power between the parties involved.

When the dispute is between a small farming business and a larger resource company, it will be the role of the Small Business Commissioner to advocate on behalf of the farming business. If both parties are small businesses, the Commissioner will work to help both of them come to an agreement.