The legislation places an onus upon the Minister to develop a management plan for the Arkaroola Protection Area as soon as practicable after the commencement of the Act, and such management plan must be ‘consistent with, and seek to further, the objects’ of the Act. The Act also expressly leaves native title issues untouched, and allows that native title may exist over, or in relation to, the protected area. The future policy direction for the area seems to be a desire to obtain both national and world heritage listing for the Arkaroola Protection Area.
Arguably the most significant provision of the Act is that ‘rights to undertake mining operations or regulated activities cannot be acquired or exercised pursuant to a mining Act in respect of land within the Arkaroola Protection Area’, and such a blanket mining prohibition ‘has effect despite the provisions of any other Act’. This effectively protects the area from any kind of mining activity in perpetuity.
The significance of this mining ban is further enhanced by the fact that mining exploration and development at Mount Gee, an area within the now protected zone, had already begun over 5 years prior to the legislation. Indeed, the mineral explorations company set up to develop the Mount Gee site, Marathon Resources Ltd, had described the site as ‘one of Australia’s largest undeveloped uranium deposits’. As a consequence of passing this legislation, the SA government has agreed to pay Marathon Resources Ltd the sum of $5 million as compensation for no longer being able to exploit the site.
The Arkaroola Protection Act 2012 (SA) thus effectively bans mining, mineral exploration, and even grazing within the Arkaroola Protection Area. The fact that the SA government has passed legislation which may function as a template for protecting other areas of natural and/or cultural significance, both within SA and nationally, despite being a government that relies heavily on the economic benefits of mining and even describes itself as ‘unashamedly pro-mining’, is a welcome policy inconsistency.
MARK J RANKIN teaches law at Flinders University.