The South Australian Supreme Court overturned on Tuesday a
ministerial approval given to Argonaut Resources (
) to drill for copper, gold and iron-oxide in parts of Lake
Torrens and Andamooka Island.
The court ruled in favour of traditional landowners who belong
to the Kokatha Wati and Andymathantha people. In reversing the
approval, the court said that the traditional landowners were
denied procedural fairness in not being consulted properly in the
exploration venture between Argonaut and Straits Resources.
Another issue against the joint venture is that Straits does
not actually hold any exploration rights but it is held by
Argonaut Chairman Patrick Elliott expressed disappointment
with the court decision in a statement to the Australian Stock
"South Australia is the only jurisdiction in Australia with
legislation that provides for the mandatory delegation of
ministerial powers to traditional owners, thus providing an
effective right of veto over any activity," Mr Elliot said.
"In our case, a site card was lodge and then amended following
its initial submission to cover an increase area, including the
proposed drill targets at Torrens," he added.
The JV is included in SA's outback known for its rich deposits
of copper and gold. The area includes the Olympic Dam operated by
BHP Billiton and Prominent Hill and Carapateena run by OZ
Argonaut raised alarm that the veto power could be applied to
non-mining activities such as public infrastructure projects. The
mining firm pushed for the amendment of the Aboriginal Heritage
Act which is the source of the veto power.
However, Vince Coulthard, chair of the Andyamanthanha
Traditional Land Association, explained that the objective of
their Supreme Court challenge was not to stop mining projects in
the area but to question government process. He pointed out that
Aboriginal Affairs Minister Grace Portolesis is mandated by law
to consult with traditional owners before she decides on
exploration project applications.
Mr Coulthard stressed that traditional owners are not against
mining exploration in itself since there are a large number of
aboriginal people who are employed as miners.
The SA Supreme Court gave the state government to appeal its
decision to the High Court.
"I strongly encourage the South Australian government to act
quickly and decisively to regain the power to determine the fate
of development in the state and to introduce appropriate
procedural rigour for the benefit of investors," Mr Elliot
Argonaut is an international mineral exploration firm. Besides
exploration interests in SA, the company is pursuing two
prospective and unexplored mineral concessions in Laos. These are
the 226-square kilometre Century project where Argonaut holds a
70 per cent interest and the 588-square kilometre Xekong project
where the firm has a 65 per cent stake.
Native title litigation in Australia started in the 1970s when
the aborigines and Torres Strait islanders became politically
active. It led to the enactment of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act
in 1976 that established a procedure which returned about 40 per
cent of Australia's Northern Territory to natives. A similar
legislation was passed covering SA.