The WA mining industry is very unsettled as a result of the True Fella v. Pantoro South decision, which involved two competing exploration licence applications for the same area.
Normally, mining companies are required to provide details of planned work and expenditure for the first year only when applying for an exploration licence. However, Warden Genevieve Cleary deemed the Applicant’s submission of a Section 58 statement invalid due to insufficient supporting documentation.
Warden Cleary stated that under section 58 of the WA Mining Act, applicants are required to submit a program of work and budget for the whole five-year term of the exploration licence, as well as the specific areas on the tenement where work is to be carried out.
The decision caused an influx of applications for exploration licences in WA, totaling 685 new applications. We compiled a search of new applications for exploration licences, in a similar time frame and prior to this ruling, which revealed a total of 209 new applications.
One must question whether our industry will benefit from the avalanche of paperwork brought on by the tripling of new applications. Particularly the increased burden of compliance and the rise of Wardens Court matters as a result of filed objections.
In the 2017 case of Forrest & Forrest v. Wilson, the High Court decided that the applicant was ineligible for their applied mining lease because they had submitted a non-compliant Section 58 statement. The decision also caused an influx, where mining companies frantically reapplied for mining leases in fear it will be deemed invalid or subject to appeal.
The backlash from this caused increased expenses and an overflow at DMIRS, until the Minister of Mines ruled to protect existing mining leases. It is now standard procedure for a mining lease application to be accompanied by a mining proposal or mineralisation report at the time of lodgment.
We believe moving forward that it will be expected that all new exploration licences will be accompanied by a Section 58 statement outlining a program of work and budget for the entire five-year term of the exploration licence.
Has this ruling advanced the exploration of our precious minerals or has it added more royalties to the coffers of Western Australia?
Shortly after the ruling by Warden Cleary, Mines Minister Bill Johnston released a statement reassuring the WA mining industry that exploration tenements' security of tenure will be protected amid concerns that Warden Cleary’s decision might deem them invalid and subject to appeal.