Land tenure

Mining, minerals and petroleum rights

In general mineral rights in Australia are reserved to the Crown. Notwithstanding, in some cases the minerals may continue to be owned by the land owner.

The acquisition of rights to minerals stems from separate legislative frameworks in each State. These frameworks provide initially for exploration of the resource, and consist of the grant by the Crown in the form of exploration permits, licences or leases. Exploration permits, leases or licences permit works to be undertaken to determine the likely existence of minerals or resources. Actual mining is subject to a further grant of mining or minerals production leases or licences. The legislation also provides for the payment of royalties to the State and to compensate the owners or occupiers of the surface land. Austrade has some useful resources and factsheets about minerals and energy resources in Australia.

Mining, minerals and petroleum rights in the Northern Territory

Over 80% of the mineral value extracted in the Northern Territory comes off Aboriginal owned land. Approximately 30% of this land is currently under exploration or under negotiation. In the Northern Territory, the exploration and mining for minerals and extractive minerals (such as sand, gravel and soil) is subject to the Territory's Mineral Titles Act. Resource companies must further enter into good faith negotiations with Aboriginal people, with agreements reached to include benefits for all parties.

All negotiations should be conducted through the land councils, who can ensure that the rightful owners are involved in consultations, that any agreement is objective and that any agreement made will be honoured. Under the Land Rights Act, Aboriginal land owners have the right to agree or disagree to mining or exploratory activity on their land. More information about agreement making with land councils can be found in the engagement guide.

Case study

GEMCO Manganese Mine

GEMCO is a manganese mining operation located on Groote Eylandt, the largest island in the Gulf of Carpentaria in Australia's north and home to the Warnindilyakwan people, the traditional owners of the land and surrounding islands of the Groote Eylandt archipelago.

The land tenure on Groote Eylandt is Aboriginal freehold, held by a land trust under the terms of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (ALRA). The Anindilyakwa Land Council (ALC) is the statutory representative body for the traditional owners, as required by the ALRA. GEMCO focusses its community development in alignment with the ALC's 15-year strategic plan, and funds large development projects which are driven by community leadership, and integrated with similar government and land council projects, to increase effectiveness. The current development projects being implemented are targeting improved outcomes for community health, education, traditional owner culture, employment and diversification of the local economy.

Mining, minerals and petroleum rights in Queensland

There are different types of permits, licences and leases in operation in Queensland relating to exploration, development and/or production of minerals, petroleum and gas. These are outlined in Applying for a Resource Authority on the Queensland Government website. Royalties are payable depending on the type of resource and the size of the activity.

For example, a mining lease in Queensland allows leaseholders to conduct large scale mining operations and may be issued for a specific mineral. More information regarding mining and mineral exploration leases in Queensland can be found on the Queensland Government's website.

Information and processes for resolving native title matters relating to applications for mining and exploration are contained in the Business and Industry Portal produced by the Queensland Government. More information about agreement making with traditional owners and native title owners can be found in the engagement guide on this website.

Case study

North West Queensland Mineral Province:

The North West Queensland Mineral Province has significant economic development potential in the form of untapped mineral reserves across a range of commodities. There is an opportunity to identify and establish additional mine and resource development capacity.

The area is globally recognised as highly prospective for a range of commodities including copper, silver, lead, zinc, gold and phosphate.

Mining, minerals and petroleum rights in Western Australia

Under the Western Australian Mining Act 1978, the act of “mining” is said to include prospecting, fossicking and exploring for minerals. All minerals including petroleum and geothermal energy existing in their natural form are owned by the State. Notwithstanding, some resources found on the land like limestone, rock, gravel and sand fall outside the operation of the Act.

Royalties are usually payable to the State for productive mining or the sale of extracted hydrocarbons. Annual rental payments are also required for petroleum tenures, prospecting licences, exploration licences and mining leases.

The Department of Mines and Petroleum (DMP) works with other Government departments and authorities, conservation bodies, the community and both the mineral and petroleum industries, in order to achieve a balance between the needs of all. DMP also facilitates access in accordance with relevant legislation and government policy concerning native title, Aboriginal heritage and land-access planning for exploration, mining, and development of the Western Australia's mineral resources on all land areas of the State and adjoining coastal waters.

Specifically, access to reserves held by the Aboriginal Lands Trust for mining related activity will require the proponent to consult with relevant Aboriginal stakeholders and potentially reach agreement on the terms under which that access might be undertaken.

The guidelines for obtaining a mining lease along with land tenure specific information for mining leases can be found on the DMP website. More information about engaging with traditional owners can be found in the engagement guide.