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Minerals Exploration

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Tuesday, 5 September 2023

Tags: Mining

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, last night, the ABC TV 7 p.m. news viewed an investigation into exploration lease approval data that the Greens obtained through a question on notice to the resources minister, Mr Ellis. In just two and a half years, the area covered by non petroleum related mineral exploration in Tasmania has nearly doubled.

At 1 January 2021, there was 5176 square kilometres under exploration licences. By 13 June this year, it was at 9842 square kilometres - almost double. Almost all of that growth has been related to Category 1 Minerals, Metallic and Atomic Substances. Licences in this category have increased by 25 across the same period. As well as that massive and rapid increase, there is another 5322 square kilometres of exploration licences currently under assessment by Minerals Resources Tasmania and these have already gone to the minister, recommending he approve many of these applications, we understand. That is 37 applications for these category 1 licences and seven for others. If the minister does approve them all, it would be a near tripling in land area under exploration since January just two years ago from 5176 up to 15 164 square kilometres. In the last month, another licence application has been made for a company to explore an area of 2179 square kilometres near Epping Forest in the north east, stretching south to Oatlands. That is in addition to the 15 000 more square kilometres.

The speed and size of this growth is enormous. Our concerns relate to the local effects of exploration activity on sensitive habitat and farm productivity and, in particular, the cumulative effect of this widespread exploration across the landscape and the fact that we know there are no proper checks and balances on local impacts of exploration activity. One individual bore hole may be non significant but hundreds and thousands of these drill holes across what is effectively the whole of the north west of Tasmania, the majority of the west and far down to Oatlands, with the clearing required for drilling vehicles access to will have an additive impact on sensitive vegetation, threatened species and productive farm land.

What we see from the exploration map of sites is significant overlap between exploration licence areas and future reserve forests, whereas the Government calls them 'future potential production forests'. It is almost a total Venn diagram match. The future reserve forest was set aside under the Tasmanian Forest Agreement for protection because of their independently verified high conservation values. They were scientifically assessed to be unique, important and deserving of protection.

In 2014, the Liberals legislated to change the status of these forests from future reserves to be protected into a new tenure - FPPF (Future Potential Production Forest zones). That does not change the intrinsic globe and nationally significant conservation values they were protected for in the first place. They are a treasured and biodiverse 565 000 hectares and they were also selected for their natural and cultural heritage, genetic diversity, eco system services like carbon storage and water catchments.

They include areas of macro fungi in wet forests that are amongst the highest recorded diversity in the world. They have threatened species like the grey goshawk, forty-spotted pardalote, swift parrot, masked owl, Tasmanian devil, spotted tail quoll, eastern quoll, blind velvet worm, a number of stag beetles, and the Scottsdale burrowing crayfish and a number of other burrowing crayfish that are all extremely significant. We know that the loss of habitat is a major threat for those species and, at the same time, they are under intense pressure from climate change.

These areas were to be protected from logging as well as from 'other human disturbances, such as roads and drilling bores, for example'. To give our species the best chance of surviving and migrating between areas that they cannot adapt to, we need to remove all the habitat threats that we can control and ensure large-scale landscape connections remain intact. Helping these species and habitats survive also protects the ecosystems that give us clean water, functioning soils and crop pollination species. We are very suspicious and disturbed to see the strong correlation between exploration licence areas and future forest reserves.

The planned exploration areas now include, as I said, the majority of the north east, most of the north west and a substantial part of the Midlands of Tasmania, and the north. We have heard from farmers who are worried about the impact of exploration on their properties and operations. The ABC showed a community meeting to discuss a licence proposed for Selbourne that the Director of Mines has recommended the minister approve. The areas under exploration licence include the food bowl of central and northern Tasmania. That is why we are calling for a review of the legislation. The legislation at the moment clearly fails to give opportunity to assess the cumulative impacts. It does not give an opportunity for community-wide consultation or to properly assess local impacts on habitat and, obviously, on farmland productivity.

We are concerned at the minister's reflex response that everything is okay and there is nothing to see here. We do not buy it. We do not think the majority of Tasmanians who understand the speed and rapid increase in exploration licences are convinced either.