Review of Tasmanian prospecting regulations

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:

For those people interested in Prospecting and Fossicking in Tasmania, MRT are reviewing the rules and it may be a good time to send your thoughts to the Director of Mines if you have any good ideas?

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:

Director of Mines
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:

The prospector—pioneer of the wildest wastes—is still pushing on;  neither hardships nor danger can daunt his persevering courage.  Though the swollen river sullenly roar across his path, though frightful scrubs entangle him in heartbraking toils, though the inclement sky pour ceaseless rain upon him, yet do they not prevail to drive him back.  Forward, still forward, is his resistless march, till the conquered crag glows red in the blaze of his cheery camp fire, and the gloomy valley re-echoes the ring of his axe.  The rough places he makes smooth, and into the dismal dens he lets light, till the beaten demons of the mine fly affrighted and yield to him their long-guarded treasures.  All honour to the undaunted heart that faces and overcomes the wilderness!  He well deserves the grateful thanks of his country.
Alexander Montgomery
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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14 Comments Review of Tasmanian prospecting regulations

  1. Simon Hedditch

    Totally agree with all of your solutions to the ambiguity in the current prospecting regs. The separation of processing of your material from the act of digging it is perfect. So how do we get these changes implemented?

    1. TasProspector

      Well, that’s the question, isn’t it? I’ve been in contact with MRT. Apparently there will be a public consultation process.

      There’s also the matter of metal detectors. John Boots commented earlier on the coin detecting post drawing attention to the fact that the use or even possession of metal detectors in any reserve type is illegal in Tasmania. This is in spite of the fact that prospecting is explicitly allowed inside some of these reserve types.

      1. Glyndower Revived

        I would be interested in what was the actual laws and statutes regarding this issue pre-1986?
        The other glaring discrimination here is that the MRT is nothing more than a executive puppet acting on the interests of “corporate bodies” which clearly discriminates against the rights of an individual/person seeking to acquire a tenament for themselvese to mine for minerals. The very reason they make these faux laws and regulations ambiguous is to confuse the public as to their “God Given Right” as a sovereign person to exercise their rights to the land. These regulations themselves are strawmen, to stop sensible and “LAWFUL” regulations from being drafted, they are unlawful and should be challenged under what is defined as “Crown Land” because this now seems to have morphed into a quasi corporate law to which is not part of our original constitution. In short it’s a perversion of our sovereignty and is (twatspeak) and will be challenged and defeated once our judicial system itself is taken back as it has also been an imposter for the above cause. The clue here is when Australia stopped being the “Commonwealth of Australia” and secretly morphed into the “Government of Australia” which is the strawman/imposter that was never decided by a referenda of the people. People are slowly waking up to this illusion of “legal” v “Lawful” in which the former is steeped in maritime law which has been imposed on the worlds public. It will in time be seen for what it is and will be defeated, (keep pushing) the walls of deception are slowly but surely crumbling.

        1. TasProspector

          Hi Glyndower,
          I don’t agree with the issues you bring up about the Constitution: So far as I know no-one has successfully challenged the power of the Australian Government to pass laws. I’ll leave the lawyers to argue about it, if they think there is a case to be made.
          Personally, I think the most realistic chance we have to get the change we want is to speak with a united voice and engage collaboratively with the regulators and politicians. My experience so far has been that it’s much more productive to work with them and propose mutually beneficial solutions, rather than challenge the lawfulness of their authority.

          1. Glyndower Revived

            Hi Tasprospector,

            It has been challenged many times and has been successful, but don’t look for this in the “news” (The 4th estate) will never make these findings public knowledge. As far as working with them in regards to individuals rights to mine and prospect on their own tenaments in Tassie (Good luck with that) these very rights are enshrined in our previous constitution and not subject to the whims of the executive hand picked for the corporate mining lobby.

            What is really in question here is individual right to mine and prospect not just on ones own land but the right to prospect on what is deemed “Crown Land” So who has ownership of crown land if not the People?
            Governments are merely our servants, even though in reality they are the pawns of big business. The link to that video I sent should make things pretty clear I would have thought, but there is no disrespect intended by myself in replying here, as I will wait and see what your outcomes are over the next couple of years. The questions you have already posed them deals directly with the terminology they are trying to bastardise, and there in holds the clue. Lawyers are paid to re-define what would otherwise be deemed sensible and straight forward terminology and the current judicial system helps them to that end. Once challenged over their terminology and definitions “which you successfuly have to date”, you get the silent treatment which can last for as long as they wish. Anyway I hope you keep me posted in this crusade as I am very interested in the outcome.

            Best Regards


  2. Peter

    Great article Miguel, I’ll borrow your main points, reword them and apply them in writing to the Director of Mines. Thanks for the lead.

  3. Quentin

    Thanks for the update Re prospecting legislation in Tassie , little did they inform me when I applied for said license . Am to busy at the moment, renovations to house dragging on, did quite a bit of such up in NSW.
    Been mapping my 1st areas to go explore but thanks to you now have to reassess slightly mmm.
    Thanks again

  4. Quentin

    Just reading mineral resources act 1995 section 102 seems obvious enough, all found discovered materials remain the property of the crown, ok,, this doesn’t mean you don’t own it, it just means that you must sell it within Aust meaning the crown. Weather that means you can sell it privately within AU or to the Gov only mmm not sure

    1. TasProspector

      Thanks Quentin!
      The advice from the Director of Mines was that we simply can’t sell it, but my own personal opinion is that this advice is inconsistent with the law. My own interpretation is that you’d be ok to sell gold that you prospect, provided you paid any dues, as the law doesn’t ban the sale of minerals obtained under prospecting licence. However, technically some royalty would be due. Since the calculations are profits-based, if you account for all your costs you wouldn’t be paying more than a few cents an ounce.
      Worth looking into.

  5. Matt

    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: We pay 1000’s of dollars annually to obtain and maintain these tenements, are subject to inspections, need to follow strict guidelines and above all need to have excessive public liability insurances to cover the lunacy we see left every other week by the 30$ per annum prospector. To me this is like saying you rented a 10K$ per annum parking space in the center of the city, but because i have a drivers licence i should have the right to park in it. Not sure where you find validity in your point here.

    Solution: If you really want to prospect on a commercial lease, pay for the right to do so like we have to.

    1. TasProspector

      Thanks Matt,
      I think you’re drawing a longbow here. I haven’t said anywhere in my site that I think prospectors should have free access to leased or private land. I agree with you that, as a leaseholder, you pay thousands per year and could be liable for anyone causing environmental damage or injuring themselves, and you have the ultimate right to decide who comes and goes inside your leased land. For all intents and purposes a lease is the same as private property, for the length of its term. You ARE the land manager. If you’ve seen a statement in my site that you interpreted to mean what you imply, please let me know.
      The point I’m trying to make is that there’s a substantial amount of land available for mining under the MRDA where prospecting is currently not allowed for environmental reasons. For example some Conservation Areas, and Nature Recreation Areas, allow commercial mining, but forbid prospecting. This is ridiculous, and it implies that a hole in the ground like Grange Resources’ Savage River Mine has less environmental impact than a prospector using hand tools only.
      I do have a different view about exploration licences, which only grant the right to explore for minerals, and don’t allow the licence holders to otherwise exclude the public from the land. I don’t agree that a prospector should have to chase up written approval from sometimes multiple licence holders, to go and prospect on just about any bit of prospective land in the State.

      1. Matt

        You have clarified the intent behind your statement now, however it was very open to interpretation before. One cannot simply say “Allow prospecting in all land available for commercial mining” and expect the layman to distinguish a set of in or excluded areas. From that statement it could be seen by some that as a prospector you were seeking the right to jump in the lift at Beaconsfield and head on down to 1080 with a pick and a pan.

        My biggest issue is the complete disregard for personal safety and the environment prospectors display. From bandicooting under 200 year old trees, undermining banks in unstable tailing’s piles to the hundreds of empty cans and just general rubbish strewn from asshole to breakfast time on all three of my leases and in all of this, i have not once been asked permission.

        All in all it proves a solid point, the vast majority of the Tasmanian prospecting community are disrespectful, it’s a shame really.

        1. TasProspector

          Hi Matt,
          Unfortunately I don’t have much to say about your points. There are always people who don’t play by the rules. There will always be people who don’t bother with a licence, or permissions, etc. The mess some people leave behind, both in terms of rubbish and of unfilled holes, etc, only does the rest of us damage and puts fossickers in bad light. Mining, prospecting and fossicking are already seen by a significant portion of the the community as a no better than raping the earth, and all this only makes it worse. Rubbish is definitely an issue, but I don’t think you can lay the blame on prospectors alone. A walk around the bush near Mathinna or Lefroy is one of the most depressing and soul-destroying things to do. The bush is a tip and it’s disgusting. I don’t think prospectors did that, only the locals.
          My experience so far when asking for permission has been usually pretty positive, but I suppose if I’m asking for permission in the first place then it’s obvious I’m trying to do the right thing. It’s not that much of an imposition, and from a prospector’s point of view I have nothing to lose: if the owner says no, there’s plenty of other places to go. However, I’ve developed great connections and friendships just from asking, and often been surprised by how helpful lease and licence holders are when you do the right thing by them.
          Anyway, enough of my rambling. I know where you’re coming from, I don’t necessarily agree with all of it, but it also shits me to know that, through the actions of some, prospectors as a whole leave this sort of reputation behind us.

  6. Matt

    It is unfortunate, very unfortunate. I would love nothing more than to have prospectors “prospecting” on my leases, exchanging ideas, information, good spots and bad ones, there is plenty of room…

    But like i say, nobody has ever asked, i just find their holes in the ground with their lunch wrappers and empty cans where they have been…

    You should come out sometime, organise a trip, i could show you my reasons for disappointment, introduce you to another long term successful dirt washer with multiple leases that is as equally approachable as myself, even get you a tour of some very interesting sites that are little known to exist.

    Anyway, its been a good chat.

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