The Defence Legislation Amendment (Woomera Prohibited Area) Bill 2013 gives effect to the recommendations of the Hawke Review of the Woomera Prohibited Area.
The Woomera Prohibited Area is Australia’s most important military testing range. It is used for the testing of war materiel under the control of the Royal Australian Air Force. It covers 127,000 square kilometres in South Australia, approximately 450 kilometres North North West of Adelaide. It is the largest land range in the world, with a centre line of over 600 kilometres, comparable in size to England.
At the same time, the Woomera Prohibited Area overlaps a major part of South Australia’s potential for significant minerals and energy resources, including 30 percent of the Gawler Craton, one of the world’s major mineral domains, and the Arckaringa, Officer and Eromanga Basins for hydrocarbons and coal. Olympic Dam is adjacent to the Woomera Prohibited Area and is part of the same geological formations.
The South Australian Government has assessed that over the next decade about $35 billion worth of iron ore, gold and other minerals resources are potentially exploitable from within the Woomera Prohibited Area.
On 17 May 2010 the then Minister for Defence, Senator John Faulkner, announced a review to make recommendations about the best use of the WPA in the national interest. This was undertaken by Dr Allan Hawke and involved consultation with a wide range of affected stakeholders. On 5 November 2010, the Review’s Interim Report was released for public comment, with Government provided with the Final Report on 4 February 2011. On 3 May 2011, with the then Minister for Resources and Energy, Martin Ferguson MP, and with the support of the South Australian Government, through its then Premier, Mike Rann, and the Minister for Mineral Resources Development, Mr Tom Koutsantonis, I released the Final Report, with the Government agreeing to implement the recommendations.
The Department of Defence set up the Woomera Prohibited Area Coordination Office that same month and a Moratorium was issued on all but the most advanced applications for access to the Woomera Prohibited Area, to enable the development of protocols necessary to implement the Review.
Minister Ferguson and I released a draft Deed of Access for minerals exploration for public consultation in April 2012. The Deed proposed an access regime for exploration companies during the transition phase to full implementation of the Review’s recommendations. Public consultation was undertaken on the draft Deed by the Woomera Prohibited Area Coordination Office in Adelaide in May 2012 and a workshop followed in Canberra in June 2012.
In October 2012, Minister Ferguson and I announced that the Woomera Prohibited Area was open to resources development under the transitional Deed of Access regime. We also announced the creation of the Woomera Prohibited Area Advisory Board and the appointment of Mr Stephen Loosley as Independent Chair of the Advisory Board and the Hon Paul Holloway as Deputy Chair.
On 8 May 2013 the Minister for Resources and Energy and I jointly released for public consultation draft legislation to implement the recommendations of the Review. The Coordination Office held a public consultation workshop in Adelaide on 10 May.
The Hawke Review considered how to use the Woomera Prohibited Area in a way that ensured that both its full national security and economic potential was realised. The Review proposed a system to maximise the co-existence between defence and non-defence users of the area.
The Review recommended that Defence remain the primary user of the area, but acknowledged that exploitation of the Woomera Prohibited Area’s considerable minerals resources would bring significant economic benefit to South Australia in particular and Australia in general.
The Review proposed that the Woomera Prohibited Area be opened up for resources exploration to the maximum extent possible, but within the confines of its primary use for defence purposes. This will allow Australians to take advantage of the resources potential in the Woomera Prohibited Area while ensuring its future viability as the most important test and evaluation range that supports the Australian Defence Force.
The Bill establishes a framework that provides all non-Defence users within the Woomera Prohibited Area a greater level of certainty over Defence activity in the Area and greater certainty over access arrangements.
It allows users to make commercial decisions with some assurance as to when they will be required to leave the Area because of Defence activity.
The framework maintains the primacy of the Woomera Prohibited Area as a national security and defence asset and sets up a co-existence scheme that allows access by non-defence users subject to conditions that protect the safety of all users in the Woomera Prohibited Area and ensure the appropriate national security protections for an area used to test defence capability.
As recommended by the Review, Indigenous landholders, pastoralists with an already established presence and existing mining operations in the Woomera Prohibited Area will continue to access and operate under their current arrangements.
The co-existence scheme established by the Bill will apply to new users of the Woomera Prohibited Area. Existing users of the Woomera Prohibited Area have the option of voluntarily joining the co-existence scheme established by these legislative measures if they so choose.
The Woomera Prohibited Area contains recognised traditional owners and significant Indigenous sites. Under the Bill, permit holders who gain access to the Woomera Prohibited Area will be required to protect these sites and comply with all relevant Native Title and Aboriginal Heritage laws. Indigenous groups with current statutory and access rights expressly retain these rights. They will not need to apply for permission under this legislation, which does not disturb existing rights.
The Bill will insert a new Part VIB into the Defence Act 1903, and amends the definition of ‘defence premises’ in Part VIA of the Defence Act to include the Woomera Prohibited Area.
Consequently, this will allow appropriately trained and qualified defence security officials to apply the security powers provided for by Part VIA to ensure the safety of all users and the security of the Woomera Prohibited Area.
While the Bill provides the overarching framework for the legislative scheme, the detail of the proposed regime is to be included in the Woomera Prohibited Area Rules, to be agreed by the Minister for Defence and the Minister for Resources and Energy.
In broad terms, the Bill:
- Authorises the Minister for Defence, with the agreement of the Minister for Resources and Energy, to make the Woomera Prohibited Area Rules prescribe certain matters, including defining the Woomera Prohibited Area, and the zones to be demarcated within that Area.
- Creates a permit system for access and use by future non-defence users of the Woomera Prohibited Area.
- Introduce offences and penalties for entering the Woomera Prohibited Area without permission and for failing to comply with a condition of a permit. An infringement notice scheme and demerit point system will apply to the offence for failing to comply with a permit condition. The details of these schemes will be included in the Rules.
- Provide for compensation for acquisition of property from a person otherwise than on just terms, although the Rules may limit the amounts of compensation payable by the Commonwealth.
Extensive consultation was undertaken during the Review process and the legislation implements the recommendations put forward in the Review. Submissions were received from interested stakeholders, including:
- the resources industry;
- Indigenous groups;
- pastoralists, and
- environmental groups.
The consultation period on the Bill itself was short. The Government’s intention is to enact legislation before this Parliament is prorogued. This is in the interests of providing non-Defence users of the Woomera Prohibited Area with certainty and assurance about their use of the area.
Consultation on the Bill included:
- the release of an information paper on the proposed legislative framework for the Woomera Prohibited Area The paper provided a general overview of the proposed policy framework proposed for implementation in the legislative package.
- On 8 May 2013, an exposure draft of the Bill was released for stakeholder feedback.
- The South Australian Government hosted a consultation workshop in Adelaide on 10 May 2013, chaired by the Woomera Prohibited Area Coordination Office, to discuss the Bill.
- On 24 May 2013, the South Australian Government hosted a discussion between Defence officials and traditional owners of the Maralinga Tjarutja and Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara lands, about the legislation.
Stakeholders provided feedback through the workshop and by written submission. Feedback was considered and where appropriate the exposure Bill was amended to take concerns into account. Amendments which occurred as a result of stakeholder feedback included express and specific recognition of the existing authorities for existing users, including Indigenous groups.
After discussions Department of Defence officials held with the traditional owners of parts of the Woomera Prohibited Area, The Government agrees, as a matter of policy, with their request that no 'wet canteens' under the current Defence Regulations for the Woomera Prohibited Area will be created in the lands held by the Maralinga Tjarutja or Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara traditional owners.
The Woomera Prohibited Area Rules will be released for public consultation today with a period of a month for interested stakeholders to consider and provide feedback.
The Woomera Prohibited Area Coordination Office will conduct extensive consultation during this period. I encourage all stakeholders to provide the Office with their comments. All reasonable suggestions and contributions regarding the Rules will be considered for incorporation by the Government.
Woomera Prohibited Area Advisory Board
The Woomera Prohibited Area Advisory Board has been established to oversee the Woomera Prohibited Area access system and foster relationships among the Woomera Prohibited Area stakeholder groups.
The Woomera Prohibited Area Advisory Board has an Independent Chair, Mr Stephen Loosley, and an Independent Deputy Chair, the Honorable Paul Holloway. Mr Stephen Loosley is Chairman of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. Mr Holloway is a previous Resources Minister of South Australia.
Other Board members are senior representatives from the Commonwealth Departments of Defence, Resources and Energy, and Finance and Deregulation, and the South Australian Government.
The Board was established to ensure:
- that the balance between economic interests and national security is maintained;
- the effectiveness of the access system in safeguarding Defence activities; and
- Indigenous and environmental interests are properly accounted for.
The Woomera Prohibited Area Advisory Board meets on a regular basis to undertake these functions.
Woomera Prohibited Area Rules
Draft Woomera Prohibited Area Rules 2013 will be released for public comment today.
The Rules provide for the detailed arrangements to give effect to the Bill.
This detail includes prescribing an area as the Woomera Prohibited Area and the provision for zones and exclusion windows within those zones.
The Rules will also provide for:
- various types of permission to be at a place within the Woomera Prohibited Area, including standing permission, written or oral permission and by way of a permit.
- the process by which permits may be subject to suspension or cancellation including the ability for a permit holder to have the Minister review a decision in relation to a cancellation of a permit.
- the Secretary of the Department of Defence to appoint people to be authorised officers to give infringement notices.
- demerit points which may be incurred when a person pays the penalty contained in an infringement notice or is convicted or found guilty of an offence.
- a cap on compensation payable to a person for loss or damage suffered in the Woomera Prohibited Area, not resulting in death or personal injury, of $2 million.
This important legislation:
- establishes a framework that provides non-Defence users within the Woomera Prohibited Area, in particular industry, with a level of certainty over Defence activity in the area;
- allows users to make commercial decisions with some assurance as to when they will be requested to leave the area because of Defence activity; and
- protects the safety of all users in the Woomera Prohibited Area and to ensure the appropriate national security protections for an area used to test defence capability.
I commend the Bill to the House.