Legality of metal detecting in Tasmania

As of the end of March 2016, using a metal detector for prospecting in Tasmania is a bit of a grey area, and there are some little-known issues about metal detecting that can catch you out.

I’ve previously covered some of the issues in my posts about gold and coin detecting. Both of these posts had some excellent comments on the issue, so I’ve done a bit of digging and I thought it was time to do a post specifically on the topic of what is and isn’t legal. Like all my content on legalities, please keep in mind that I’m not a lawyer, and what I write is my own personal interpretation of the laws and regulations at the time of writing.

Why is this even a question?

Unlike in every other State, Tasmanian law and prospecting regulations make no mention at all of metal detectors, and whether they qualify as a ‘hand-held instrument’ under the definition of prospecting in the Mineral Resources Development Act 1995 (our current mining law). It is the opinion of most of the Mineral Resources Tasmania (the body that regulates prospecting) staff I’ve talked to is that metal detectors are indeed ‘hand-held instruments’, particularly since they have a reach of under 2 meters, which is the limit of depth you can excavate while prospecting. This is explained in a comment by Mark Duffet here.

While it’s great to read and hear that this is the current interpretation of the law, there is nothing official about it. In other words, it is simply the current opinion of individual staff members who work there. Since there are no written guarantees in the form of legislation or regulations, an individual staff member could take a different view at any time.

Do people even detect for gold nuggets in Tasmania? YES! Very much so. Metal detecting has become one of the main, if not THE main way of prospecting for gold in Tassie. Sadly, the situation we have with confusing and contradictory rules and advice from the regulators means that most Tasmanians who metal-detect for gold end up doing it on the mainland. This is in spite of the fact that the returns from detecting nuggets in Tasmania can be pretty good by comparison.

Metal detecting in reserves is illegal

The law in Tasmania at the time of writing says that having a metal detector inside a reserve is illegal, even inside reserves that allow prospecting.

Regulation 19(8) of the Crown Lands Regulations 2011 says:

 (8) A person must not, except in accordance with an authority –
(a) bring a metal detector into a public reserve; or
(b) have a metal detector in possession in a public reserve.
Fine not exceeding 5 penalty units.

The key phrase here is “except in accordance with an authority”. I’ll explain why in a moment.

So a metal detector is nowadays one of the main tools used for gold prospecting. It is most likely a ‘hand-held instrument’ and perfectly OK to use in Tasmania. Prospecting is allowed inside some reserve types like Conservation Areas and Regional Reserves. YET you will be breaking the law for using or even just having a metal detector with you within those reserves that allow prospecting.

During informal talks with some MRT staff, it seems that some consider a prospecting licence should constitute ‘an authority’ as required in Regularion 19(8). However, reserves in Tasmania are administered and patrolled by Parks and Wildlife, NOT by Mineral Resources Tasmania. Parks don’t necessarily accept a prospecting licence issued by MRT to be a valid authority under the context of Regularion 19(8), hence why you can still get prosecuted.

The solutions aren’t that hard

So here we are, in another situation where the rules continue to be contradictory and confusing, yet another deterrent to people fossicking and prospecting in Tasmania. And we end up heading to the mainland and spending our hard-earned cash over there, instead of in our beautiful State. Instead of attracting tourists to Tasmania to come and enjoy metal detecting down here. No wonder we’re in the dumps.

Here’s what I would like to see:

  • An updated Mineral Resources Development Act or Prospecting Regulations that clearly state that a metal detector is a ‘hand-held instrument’ and OK to use for prospecting.
  • A closer liaison between Parks and MRT that results in Parks officially accepting a current prospecting licence issued by MRT as ‘an authority’ (as per Regularion 19(8)) to posess and use a metal detector inside a reserve type that allows prospecting.

Then we can all get on with prospecting, and spend less time worrying about whether we’re going to get fined for doing something that most people didn’t know was illegal in the first place.

What do YOU think of the way rules and the law on prospecting works in Tasmania? If you like the content at Apple Isle Prospector, feel free to get in contact, or leave a comment. If you enjoyed this article, then let others know by sharing it on Facebook or liking our Facebook or Twitter pages:

6 Comments Legality of metal detecting in Tasmania

  1. Daniel

    Yes i fully agree that the laws in tasmania stink as they seem to be 2 laws, one for the ones that make it and one for the others that are under the thumb and can even make any sense of it. On one end they can give permission to big companies to make mines and destroy the environment and yet one for the guy that just want to just enjoy the outdoors and make a tiny hole and refill it. Same as fishing ,the trawler have all the rights to destroy the ocean and the amateur fisher that if lucky to even catch something is bee reduced as to what he catches every year as to limits and sizes etc.. Wake up Tasmania, we are stuffing the state up just for a handfull of ignorant bastards that think that their shit don’t stink and impose their idiotic will upon the rest of us puppets. We are going down the drain further and further by making so many bloody laws and regulations that kills us more then protect us. Let people live and have a bit of fun as they are the one paying for it all anyhow more then the bloody companies. Cheers

    1. TasProspector

      Thanks Daniel,
      I don’t know that I’d take it that far, but your point about two sets of rules is good: Some reserve types, like Nature Recreation Areas, allow large-scale mining and not prospecting. Why? Because a full-scale commercial mining project has gone through strict environmental approvals. I kid you not.
      So we end up with a set of rules that says you can make a hole in the ground 8 km long by 4 km wide (the Savage River mine), but you can’t go to the creek and pan some gold. As the Americans would say, go figure.

  2. Tom Coote

    Hi Miguel,

    I just found your website. I think it’s great! Informative yet casual.
    I am a mainlander, but I love Tassie so much I bought a place down near Cygnet. I hope to get down there soon and spend some time on the west coast (haven’t been there yet).
    I have had a detector since way back in 1982, but only ever searched for coins, both here and overseas. I’d like one day to find a piece of gold.
    Excuse my ignorance, but what is a “reserve”? Is it a flora reserve or a fauna reserve or what? And who designates it?
    Any clarification would be much appreciated.

    Best regards,


    1. TasProspector

      Hi Tom,
      Thanks for the feedback!
      Tasmania has various categories of reserves that are legislated through several Acts of Parliament. The Crown Lands Act is one of the main ones of these. Some of these reserve types, like Conservation Areas, Regional Reserves and Nature Recreation Areas allow mining. However the Crown Lands Regulations ban possession or use of metal detectors in any reserve at all.
      As far as I know, it would need to be a reserve for the purposes of the Crown Lands Act. I.e., a local council reserve might not qualify for this. However the local council may well have by-laws that do the same. In the case of an inconsistency, as far as I know, State law trumps council by-laws. So if the land tenure type allows mining, you should be good to go.
      All this is for the purposes of prospecting. If you’re coin shooting or hunting relics, then the mining provisions don’t apply to you. Best to ask for permission first.

  3. Michael

    Hello Tas prospector
    What resources and reading do you suggest we look at about gold prospecting in tassie? We getting started……

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