Companies operating in Australia are subject to the relevant statutory legislation of that jurisdiction.
This includes, in the case of the extensive Western Australian tenements (“Tenements or Mining Tenements”);
In Western Australia, ownership of all minerals is vested in the State. Exploration and mining companies and individuals may access rights to minerals, subject to payment of rents and royalties, by obtaining exclusive mining title, commonly called mining “tenements”.
The Company's mining tenements comprise from time to time exploration licences, mining leases and prospecting licences, granted or applied for under the Western Australian Mining Act 1978.
The Western Australian Mining Act applies generally in relation to mining, prospecting and related activities conducted on the land subject to the Mining Tenements in addition to any standard and special conditions that apply to each tenement.
An exploration licence remains in force for a period of 5 years. Those applied for before 6 February 2006 may, in certain circumstances, be extended by a further period or periods of one or two years on application, while at the end of the third and fourth years of the term, the holder must relinquish not less than half of the area of the licence. Exploration licences applied for after 6 February 2006 still remain in force for 5 years but at the end of this term the licence can be extended for a further period of 5 years, subject to a 40% relinquishment of the original area. Further extensions of 2 years each are then possible under prescribed circumstances.
Exploration licences are applied for in graticular blocks comprising one minute of latitude and longitude. The area comprising one graticular block will range from approximately 2.8 square km to 3.3 square km depending on latitude.
The WA Mining Act confers on the holder of an exploration licence which is in force, the right to apply for and, subject to the WA Mining Act, have granted one or more mining leases over any part of the land the subject of that licence, for the purpose of mining operation.
A mining lease remains in force for a period of 21 years and may be renewed for successive periods of 21 years. In the case of mining leases the period of 21 years commences from the date of notification by the Minister.
No legal or equitable interest in or affecting a mining lease can be transferred or otherwise dealt with, or sub-lease entered, without the prior written consent of the Minister. Mining tenements in Western Australia are granted subject to various conditions prescribed by the Western Australian Mining Act including payment of rent, expenditure and reporting requirements and environmental conditions.
Information on rent and expenditure conditions can be found at the website of the WA Department of Mines and Petroleum.
There may be sites of significance to Aboriginal people located on the land on which the Tenements are situated.
The Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 (WA) (WA Heritage Act) applies to the Tenements and makes it an offence to, among other things, knowingly alter or damage an Aboriginal site or object on or under an Aboriginal site. A site is defined to include any sacred, ritual or ceremonial site which is of importance and special significance to persons of Aboriginal descent. There is no requirement or need for a site to be registered in any public manner or, indeed, be in any way acknowledged as an Aboriginal site for it to qualify as an Aboriginal site for the purposes of the WA Heritage Act.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Act 1984 (Cth.) (Commonwealth Heritage Act) also applies to the Mining Tenements and is aimed at the preservation and protection from desecration of significant Aboriginal areas and significant Aboriginal objects. An area or object is found to be desecrated if it is used or treated in a manner inconsistent with Aboriginal tradition.
Database searches can ascertain if any Aboriginal sites have been identified and registered in the Company’s exploration licences and applications; however there is no guarantee that all sites, objects or relics have been registered. In any event, their exact location is often not ascertainable from such searches. Further, these enquiries are generally done by the exploration or mining company after the tenure applied for is granted and once a particular work programme has been determined. In those cases it may be generally necessary to enter into separate arrangements with the traditional owners of the sites to obtain that information. This may add to the time taken for the Company to gain access to the ground for exploration.
To ensure that that it does not contravene any laws while carrying out operations on its Tenements, the Company’s policy is to routinely conduct heritage surveys to determine if any Aboriginal sites exist within the area of such Tenements. The Company has to ensure that any interference with such Aboriginal sites is in strict conformity with the provisions of the WA Heritage Act and the Commonwealth Heritage Act.
On the Company’s tenements and tenement applications, Heritage Surveys are generally not required for low impact activities such as prospecting, soil sampling, rock chip sampling or airborne geophysical surveys, as they have very little impact on the landscape.
However, in order to conduct drilling and related activities, irrespective that such exploration may in many cases also be of very low impact, a Heritage Agreement is usually required, conducted with; by; or on behalf of the relevant Native Tile Claimant in that area.
A Heritage Agreement typically provides the parties with a template for the conduct and cost of heritage surveys by the Claimants over the areas of proposed drilling and related activity.
The Company is reliant on the timely, efficient and reasonable co-operation of the relevant Claimants and those who represent them to conduct Heritage Surveys.
The Company is required to have a Heritage Agreement with the relevant Claimant Group (if the Claimant Group requires the same) as a pre-requisite for the approval of the Native Title Tribunal and the subsequent granting of the Tenement by the Department of Mines and Petroleum.
If there are no Native Title Claimant objections to a tenement application, then grant of the tenement may occur some months after the application. However delays of more than 12 months can occur if objections to such grant are lodged by Native Title Claimants, under either the Mining Act or Native Title Act.
Native title objections are usually avoided if an applicant and an affected native title claimant/holder sign the State Government’s standard heritage agreement, (Regional Standard Heritage Agreement) which sets out the manner in which Heritage Surveys are to be conducted by the Claimants, paid for by the Company, to allow drilling and exploration activities such as trenching, bulk sampling etc, to proceed and at the same time avoid any Aboriginal heritage sites.
A number of the Company’s tenements are still at application stage as outlined from time to time in the Company’s ASX announcements and reports.