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Walker Review recommendations accepted by NSW government

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Mining and gas explorers will be forced to pay the cost of arbitration with landholders in the event of access disputes.

This was one of 32 recommendations made by Bret Walker SC, who conducted a government-commissioned review entitled Examination of the Land Access Arbitration Framework.

All recommendations in the Walker Review were accepted by the state government, according to Resources and Energy minister Anthony Roberts.

‘‘Explorers will now bear all costs associated with arbitration, set and capped by an independent expert,’’ Roberts said.

‘‘Timeframes will also be capped, providing greater certainty for landholders and industry.’’

Recommendation for amendments to the Mining Act 1992 and the Petroleum (Onshore) Act 1991 will be introduced to the NSW parliament during 2015.

Amendments to the acts will ensure that landholders are entitled to have legal costs paid by the explorer; for time spent negotiating and arbitrating (up to a capped amount); and for the costs of experts that are engaged by landholders.

The current compensation provisions do not allow land owners to recoup the costs of negotiating or arbitrating an access arrangement or initial legal costs incurred.

The Walker Report also recommends that mediators in the arbitration process may not be arbitrators, except with permission from both parties.

The report details guidelines for selection of arbitrators and mediators, and seeks legislation for land access arrangements to be negotiated in good faith.

Walker also suggested that the government consider a number of issues that were outside the scope of the report.

These include landholders accessing security deposits or the creation of a landholder rehabilitation fund in the event of an explorer causing damage; whether an exploration licence should be terminated if an access arrangement was breached; issues of fatalities associated with living near mining, particularly coal seam gas and unconventional gas drilling; crown ownership of resources and whether the Crown should continue to own them after extraction; the scope of the definition of prospecting under the Mining Act and whether it should be amended to include environmental assessments to avoid companies having to enter into an access arrangement and obtain an s252 permit.

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