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12 April 2001

OPB 160 placed at Ministers discretion

The Department of Mineral Resources have placed OPB 160 at the Ministers discretion because we understand they believed that access to West Plain paddock was inappropriately granted and contrary to an agreed method of releasing that paddock. The issue is simple. Should a holder of Western Lands Lease, (a pastoral lease), select who can or cannot exercise a right to a prospecting/mining Title? The Lightning Ridge Miners’ Association (LRMA) says no!!

This issue is at the core of open fair access to a mining title.

The assertion of the present claimants to title on 160 that the LRMA is somehow responsible for three OPB’s being taken out of the system is incorrect. When these OPB’s were gazetted it wasn’t known that they were covered by National Parks and Wild Life Refuges and could not be issued as they were not valid.

The LRMA has sought for years to have these determinations reviewed.

Unfortunately we have not been as successful in rectifying the situation as we were with the fenceline rort.

The situation that has arisen on OPB 160 is a result of an ad hoc development of a system that is flawed and still allows the opportunistic exploitation of loopholes. The solution is to fix the system and not to undermine it by private negotiations between landholder and miner.

A system that hands selective discretionary power to a landholder as to who can mine on their grazing lease will surely destroy this industry as it exists. Is this what the claimants of OPB 160 wish to achieve? Is this their "even playing field" for all miners?

The system of the titles at Lightning Ridge has evolved over 30 years by co-operation between the Department of Mineral Resources and the LRMA. It is unique and designed to meet the needs of the black opal industry.

It is also constantly evolving and has to contend with Acts of Parliament that at times conflict with the aspirations of opal miners.

Of course there are weaknesses and contradictions. Who the hell is perfect?

The LRMA to the best of its ability fights the corner of the independent prospector/miner to gain access to all prospective ground on open equitable terms. Maybe some miners may have forgotten that without the LRMA this industry might not even exist.

On the issue of balloting for OPB’s several points should be made. First there are always available 150 or more OPB’s that anyone can take out at any time and go and prospect it with a piece of fencing wire. Ballots only occur when the OPB is a "hot spot".

Who should be eligible for this ballot?

A general consensus would say that a tourist off the last bus in town should not have the opportunity. That consensus would probably also say it should only be open to people whose livelihood depended upon opal mining. A prospector / miner who happens to be broke should have an equal opportunity as one who is financial.

Anyone in a ballot should have the means to prospect that OPB which in today’s terms means a drill rig. Not all prospector/miners have a rig but the ballot system must include them.

Extensive discussions are taking place and we hope we are getting closer to resolution of this issue.

Finally the Board of the LRMA believe that despite the difficulties and disputes that arise miners support the general policy framework that determine the future working of the industry. As the industry spreads outwards the rest of the world’s regulations will increasingly impinge upon our activities.

To successfully resolve issues of access to prospective ground miners will have to become ever more aware of safety and environmental issues and graziers legitimate entitlements.

Industry unity is a strength that we ignore at our peril.

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