How are we regulated?
In Tasmania, what we can and can’t do while fossicking and prospecting is regulated in two different ways:
- The law that regulates all mining- and prospecting-related matters, the Mineral Resources Development Act (MRDA) of 1995. This Act sets out some of our rights and responsibilities. It gives the Director of Mines the power to pass any regulations regarding prospecting that he or she sees fit (provided they are within the boundaries of the authority granted him by the Act).
- Those regulations passed by Mineral Resources Tasmania (the regulatory body), in the name of the Director of Mines.
Tasmanian prospecting regulations under review?
A recent note in the newsletter of the Mineralogical Society of Tasmania said:
This is the first and only piece of news I’ve come across about this review. As far as I can tell it hasn’t actually been advertised anywhere.
This seemed like a good opportunity to encourage anyone and everyone who has views on Tasmanian prospecting regulations to write to the Director of Mines. It’s a good opportunity to contribute your ideas about prospecting and fossicking in Tasmania. The Director’s address is:
PO Box 56
Rosny Park, TAS 7018
My views on Tasmanian prospecting regulations
This is also a good opportunity to set out what I see as some of the main problems with fossicking and prospecting laws and regulations in Tasmania. My own opinion is that prospectors and fossickers are overregulated and underpoliced. Here’s some of the issues, as I see them, and possible solutions:
Problem: Tasmanian prospecting licences are too expensive. We pay close to $30 for a one year licence. In contrast Victorians pay ~$17 for a ten year licence and WA has a lifetime licence for $25.
Solution: Extend the period that Tasmanian prospecting licences are valid for, to reduce administration costs.
Solution 2: Allow associations, like the Prospectors and Miners Association of Tasmania, to take up group prospecting licences that cover all their members. This would save MRT on processing time and costs, and save the members of various clubs and associations from having to get a licence every year.
Problem: Tasmanian prospecting licences are currently a fraud. They don’t give the licensee actual ownership over their finds. For background see Who owns the minerals in Tasmania?
Solution: Update the MRDA. Make it unambiguous that a person who is legally prospecting or fossicking own the minerals they find by virtue of their licence or by virtue of fossicking within the law.
Problem: Tasmanian prospecting regulations ban prospecting inside areas where mining is otherwise permitted, even encouraged.
Solution: Allow prospecting in all land available for commercial mining under the Mineral Resources Development Act.
Problem: Prospecting regulations go beyond their legal limit by banning some methods of processing material, such as sluices and highbankers.
Solution: Prospecting regulations should have nothing to say about methods of processing samples. Prospecting is defined as the collection of material with hand tools. The law gives the Director of Mines power to regulate prospecting, but not to regulate the methods that may be employed to process the already-prospected samples, once they have been detached from the ground using hand tools.
Problem: Tasmanian prospecting regulations force the licensee to obtain permission from holders of any kind of tenement, before they can prospect inside it. Almost all prospective land in Tasmania is covered in exploration licences of various kinds. Although the law says that exploration licence holders must respond to prospectors with reasons if a request is denied, licence holders face no penalty for not responding to requests at all.
Solution: Update the regulations to say unequivocally that a failure to respond within a set period of time (i.e. 4 weeks) can be interpreted as consent to prospect. Even better follow the Victorian lead and require permissions to be obtained from mining leases and retention licences, not exploration licences.
Unwitting discrimination against prospectors?
Tasmanian mining regulations, at the time that the MRDA of 1995 was introduced, drew a difference between people using powered equipment to move materials (mining), and those using only hand tools, in the traditional sense (prospecting). There was a perception that the old system of prospecting claims was being abused, so it was replaced with a system that meant, in essence, that hand-tools you could carry out in the bush by yourself all day were ok, and heavy mechanised equipment was not. Mining was now tied to a defined piece of land (a lease), while prospecting remained mobile. The MRDA provided no restrictions on prospectors selling their finds, despite what the Director of Mines has previously stated. It gave prospectors the same mechanism for royalties calculation as it gave commercial mines: if you turn a profit, a royalty is payable.
Over the years since the MRDA was introduced, regulations have become more and more restrictive in typical bureaucratic fashion. Staff are rarely familiar with prospecting regulations, or the law as it applies to prospecting and fossicking. A corporate culture has gradually developed within the regulatory body that says prospectors are allowed to do some things and not others, and this culture is often not supported by the actual mining act. A recent enquiry to MRT about whether river sluices were permissible produced a response that eroding riverbeds was not allowed (as opposed to banks). Another enquiry to MRT asked why prospectors are banned from areas where large-scale mining is allowed. Funnily enough, the response was that even large mining projects are subject to strict environmental conditions, whereas prospectors (individuals using only hand tools) might cause greater environmental damage. This is not a joke. Bureaucrats feel that they have to control and regulate fossicking and prospecting. They act often with little knowledge of what the law actually says. They have no budget for policing existing rules, so they simply pass more and more restrictive rules, in a vicious cycle.
Finally, a friend was vilified by MRT staff for selling gold nuggets. They insisted that doing so was illegal and/or abusing the system. This is in spite of the fact that the MRDA has nothing in it that hints (or says outright) that selling proceeds of prospecting is not allowed. My followup question to the Director of Mines as to whether prospectors actually own what they find was answered saying they don’t. In all this, they never actually bothered to check whether he’d actually found them while prospecting in Tasmania in the first place.
The bureaucrats of today seem to forget that is was prospectors, with pick and shovel, panning dish and sluice, that discovered most of Tasmania’s richest mines. The unparalleled period of prosperity that Tasmania went through in the 1870s and 1880s was mostly thanks to the mining revenues that came from prospectors’ discoveries. Among these mines were the New Golden Gate in Mathinna, the Tasmania mine in Beaconsfield, the Mt Bischoff tin mine, the Rosebery and Renison Bell mines, the Zeehan silver-lead mines, the tin fields of the north-east, and the Mt Lyell copper mine.
In 1890 the State Geological Surveyor Alexander Montgomery put it like this:
Inspector of Mines and Geological Surveyor
Report on the state of the mining industry on the West Coast. 25 April 1890
How things have changed!
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