Michael Pascoe writes:

Now that Rio Tinto has been given back
the Shovelanna iron ore deposit, the company’s chairman has assured the West
Australian
‘s John Phaceas that his company has no particular plans to develop it, or words to that
effect.

Your social studies assignment is to compare
and contrast the Queensland Labor Government’s treatment of the Aurukun bauxite
deposit and the WA Labor Government’s treatment of Shovelanna.

Peter Beattie took the Aurukun deposit
away from Alcan in 2004 because nothing had happened there for 30 years. (There’s
a common “use it or lose it” clause in leases that is uncommonly invoked.) In
March, Aluminium Corp of China
– Chalco – defeated a field of ten companies for the right to develop a $2.9
billion mine
and refinery for the Aurukun resource.

In his rather randomly argued reasoning
for taking Shovelanna away from Cazaly,
WA’s Minister for Rio,
Paul Bowler noted:

Rio,
via the Rhodes Ridge Joint Venture, held the subject ground for over 30 years
under various tenures, most recently under Exploration Licence 46/209. Over
this period, Rio’s reported expenditure in exploring this ground totalled $587,063.

On the scale of WA mineral exploration,
that’s pretty much SFA. It wouldn’t keep your Land Cruiser in diesel. It works
out at less than $20,000 a year to leave a couple of hundred million tonnes of
iron ore sitting idle. Over the last 16 years, “Rhodes Ridge JV applied for and was
granted partial exemption from (the bulk of) the required annual expenditure in
10 of these years; was granted exemption from the compulsory 50 per cent
surrender ‘drop off’ on two occasions; and the term was extended for one year
on 11 occasions”.

No, they’re not into “use it or lose
it”. Cazaly’s pegging of the ground – Bowler agrees it was legitimate –
provided WA with an easy avenue of achieving use, but instead Bowler
effectively re-wrote the common understanding of the administration of his
state’s mining law:

Investment in the resources industry is promoted when explorers can be
confident that their ownership of resources they have discovered is not
jeopardised, with consequences disproportionate to minor oversights or actions.

In other words, near enough is now good
enough when it comes to licence or lease renewals. Noel Crichton-Browne’s defence of
Bowler’s performance on Friday supports that concept. It also overlooks the benefit that was on
offer to WA.

But when has Rio not received
pretty much what it wanted from WA governments?

Peter Fray

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