TRANSCRIPT: PRESS CONFERENCE – WOOMERA PROTECTED AREA
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 5 October 2012
TOPICS: Woomera Protected Area.
JAY WEATHERILL: Ladies and gentlemen, it's my great pleasure to welcome Minister Smith, Stephen Smith, the Minister for Defence to South Australia to make an important announcement about the Woomera Protected Area and also to supplement that with some further announcements about arrangements pursuant to the expansion of the Woomera Protected Area for mining exploration and activity.
If I could then supplement his remarks with a few of my own.
And we'll be available for questions on that topic.
And if there are any other matters that you wish to ask any questions about we can deal with that after Mr Smith has left.
STEPHEN SMITH: Premier, thank you very much. I'm very pleased to be here. But it is literally a flying visit. It's my fault we're running a bit late. My plane landed a bit later and I'm heading back to the airport. But I'm very pleased to announce that today the Minister for Resources, Martin Ferguson and I, are announcing the next stage in the opening up of the Woomera Protected Area.
The moratorium which has been in place for some time ends and new non-Defence users are now able to make applications for use of the Woomera Protected Area.
The Woomera Protected Area is of course a highly prospective area, and I'm sure the Premier will detail the potential that it has to add to the minerals resources investment and minerals resources production in South Australia.
Woomera is also of course a highly valued and essential national security asset.
It's essential to Defence's testing purposes.
When I came to the portfolio, the Federal Minister for Resources, Martin Ferguson and I, agreed that we should effect a review of the use of the Woomera Protected Area.
And this was to a very large extent as a result of the enhanced importance of the minerals resources industry to South Australia in recent years. I come from a minerals resources state, Western Australia, and I know from my observations from afar that over the last couple of decades the effort that has gone into supporting minerals exploration, and supporting minerals resources development has been significant by successive governments of South Australia.
So we effected a review of the Woomera Protected Area and its use, and that review was conducted by Allan Hawke, a former Secretary of the Department of Defence.
That review recommended - and we accepted the recommendations of that review - that the Woomera Protected Area be divided essentially into three zones: a red zone which would continue to be exclusively used by Defence for testing purposes. A green zone where there would be a limited number of days of exclusion for non-Defence use. And an amber zone where there would be a limited number of days of exclusion for non-Defence use.
Woomera of course is a vast area. The Woomera Protected Area, is over 120,000 square kilometres. And using general terms the red area, will continue to be for exclusive Defence purposes - is less than 10 per cent of the entire area.
It's about eight per cent of the area. The green zone which will be the most flexible area available to non-Defence users, in other words for minerals, exploration, and minerals activity, is in the order of some 75 per cent of the Woomera Protected zone, so over 90,000 square kilometres. And the amber zone comes in at just under 20 per cent, at about 16 or 17 per cent.
So we're opening up for potential exploration and exploitation vast square kilometres of South Australia.
In terms of the process today when we accepted the recommendations of the Hawke Review, we put in place a moratorium on applications for new users. And that has seen for the last period no new applications. There was on foot about 120 lease minerals, minerals leases or minerals exploration applications.
None of those 120 applications are in the red zone.
They fall either within the green zone or the amber zone. There are four existing mines which you'll be well aware of, they all fall in the green zone.
So the significance of the announcement today is that the moratorium is over, and new applications can now be considered. The next phase of the process of putting this on a certain footing will be to have the Woomera Protected Area steering committee, which is made up of officials from the Commonwealth, from Defence, from resources, and officials from South Australia, from South Australian Defence and from resources, that cross government, Commonwealth-State, Commonwealth-South Australian working committee will now start the process of preparing for Commonwealth legislation to put this on an absolutely certain footing so far as industry is concerned.
Part of the Hawke recommendations are also to have an advisory committee to the Woomera Protected Area.
The advisory committee is made up of officials from the Commonwealth and the State, but we always envisaged that there would be an independent chair to the advisory committee, and an independent deputy chair.
And I'm very pleased to also announce today that the independent chair of the Woomera advisory committee will be Stephen Loosley, who is currently the chair of ASPI. And Mr Loosley is a former Senator, which you'll be well aware of, he is also a member of the board of ASPI since 2002, and has been its chair since 2008.
And he brings considerable acumen so far as strategic consideration of national security and defence matters is concerned.
The Deputy Chair will be Paul Holloway, a former Minister for Minerals Resources from South Australia who has an intricate understanding of minerals resources industry in the South Australian and in the national context.
So those two independent chair and deputy chair will bring a balance of national security and defence considerations and minerals resources application.
And that has been the effort and thrust of the work that Martin Ferguson and I have done in conjunction with South Australian Premiers - initially Mike Rann and now Premier Weatherill.
We wanted to do everything we could to open up Woomera to sensible exploration and exploitation. And we've done that, balancing the necessary national security issues and the economic imperative of continued enhancement of the South Australian industry.
And we found in that context we believe a sensible balance. And the work of the advisory committee into the future will not only help us bed down the legislation but also deal with any problematic issues which might arise in the future.
And we will ask the advisory committee in due course to do a review of the arrangements once they've been in place at a legislative level for a workable period of time.
So Premier, thank you for the assistance that you have given to this process.
This is a significant thing that we're doing both in this historical context but also in terms of shared use of facilities which bring important benefits both for national security issues but also for economic issues.
JAY WEATHERILL: Thank you Minister, and can I say that the South Australian Government welcomes this very important announcement in terms of the future prospectivity of South Australia's mineral resources. We want to thank the Commonwealth for their efforts in undertaking what is a very complex set of negotiations and now bring them to conclusion.
In terms of the significance of this for Australia, four of those mines that exist in and around the Woomera Protected Area already are four of the most significant mines that we actually have in South Australia. So the prospectivity of this particular region is regarded as incredibly important. Eighty per cent of Australia's uranium reserves, 60 per cent of its copper reserves are forecasted to be in the Woomera Protected Area, or closely associated with it.
We know that this is something that mining companies have been waiting for some considerable period. We know that these access arrangements give them the sort of certainty that will allow them to make rather large investments. These are not simple matters. The investments that are necessary to bring drill rigs into particular areas for extended periods require the allocation of very significant resources. That can be brought to an end quickly without any certainty. That is a barrier to investment, and so this will provide the sort of certainty that will allow more investment to be made.
In the last budget we allocated to $2 million to the further detailed mapping of the Woomera Protected Area in anticipation of this announcement. We did that because we wanted to take some of the risk out the decision making that would be made by companies as they take these very significant exploration decisions.
The electromagnetic mapping which allows us to determine anomalies which are the signposts towards very significant mineral deposits will allow the decision making of companies to be even more fine-grained, increasing the prospect of them making significant successful discoveries.
I welcome the Australian Government's announcements today. We welcome the two new appointments; we think that they will be very sensible and supportive of the approach that we're taking here in South Australia, and I'd invite you to ask any questions you have on these topics to either myself or the Minister.
JOURNALIST: Can I just ask about the end of the moratorium? Does that enable you explorer’s access of the red zone - the continuous [indistinct]?
STEPHEN SMITH: No. Currently, as I said, we've got four existing mines - all of those four mines are in the green zone. We've got about 120 applications on foot which were put in before the moratorium was effected back in 2011 when we published the Hawke Review and accepted its recommendations. Those 120 applications are in the green zone or the amber zone. So any new applications will be for the green zone or the amber zone.
And just to give you a bit more sort of detail, if you're in the green zone, then you can only be excluded from your activity for up to 56 days a year, unless there are emergencies or critical exigencies - has to be done by way of notice, and those arrangements are set out in the Hawke Review, and also set out in the access code, which is also being published today.
In the amber zone, depending upon whether you're in the south-eastern portion or what's called the central portion, you can be excluded for up to 70 days or up to 140 days. In the red zone, there is no access for any new users, so we have no current users in the red zone, and applications won't be allowed for the users.
And as I said in my remarks, if you look at the vast area of the Woomera Protected Area over 120,000 square kilometres, the red zone is about eight per cent; it's less than 10,000 square kilometres - about 9500 square kilometres. The reason that access to that won't be granted is because that goes right to the very heart of the national security importance, and we can't allow non-Defence users access to that site because that runs across the national security [indistinct].
Historically of course, the Commonwealth, Defence has been using Woomera for over 60 years, so the access arrangements for industry and non-Defence users generally are vastly superior today than what they were tomorrow, and vastly superior today than when Woomera started 60 years ago.
JOURNALIST: But is it right that there's still [indistinct] over that red zone? And if so, what happens to the owners of [indistinct]
STEPHEN SMITH: No, there are 120 lease exploration or minerals applications on foot - none of those are within the red zone. So there's no current user who is adversely affected by the determination of the red zone. The 120 applications on foot are in the green or amber zone, so there you have those number of days per year from which activity may be excluded - not necessarily will be, but may be excluded - and that will depend upon testing arrangements.
But in the red zone there are no current users and no applications will be contemplated for that area in the future.
JOURNALIST: Will the door be open to all mining companies [indistinct] a joint venture involving a Chinese company though was knocked back for national security reason. Will the Defence department still be applying extra social [indistinct]?
STEPHEN SMITH: The one that you're referring to which I remember at the time was rejected by the Treasurer as part of a foreign investment decision that he made under national interest criteria.
So in terms of foreign ownership, any foreign ownership issues will be determined not by Defence or by the access arrangements, they'll be determined in the usual way by the Foreign Investment Review Board, or the Treasurer as the case may be.
So when you look at the access principles and the access deed arrangements, so the way in which industry and the Commonwealth in terms of its bureaucracy - whether it's defence or whether it's resources, the way in which they interact - none of those principles or requirements include foreign investment issues. And so foreign investment decisions will be made by the Foreign Investment Review Board, or the Treasurer in the usual way in accordance with those criteria.
JOURNALIST: So do you feel comfortable allowing foreign-owned companies into the region, particularly Chinese [indistinct] companies?
STEPHEN SMITH: I don't deal with foreign investment by focusing or concentrating on one particular country, and that is the application of our principles, they are foreign investment per se. Historically we've seen in the Australian context, over a period of decades, substantial overseas investment, either from the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, or the European Union. And I'm happy to be corrected, but the last time I looked, I have a pretty strong memory that US, UK, European Union were at the top of the tree and China was in either 12th or 13th or 14th position in terms of foreign investment in Australia.
But I'm confident - because we already have one example on foot from two or three years ago where the Treasurer made a foreign investment decision on the basis of a national security consideration. So I'm very comfortable and confident that whatever national security issues need to be taken into account will be taken into account either by the Foreign Investment Review Board or by the Treasurer as the case may be.
On a regular basis, the Foreign Investment Review Board, which deals with the vast bulk of these applications - a small number go to the Treasurer. On a regular basis, the Foreign Investment Review Board is in contact with Defence over national security issues to ensure that they're taken into account as the review board itself makes these decisions. But I'm entirely comfortable with, and confident of that process.
JAY WEATHERILL: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you.
STEPHEN SMITH: All right. Thanks very much. Thank you. Cheers Jay.