The state’s mining minister has defended his predecessor over claims she misled Woodvale community representatives before officially approving the transfer of Bendigo mining licences earlier this month, saying she “went beyond” her legal requirements in defending the community’s interests.
Former Resources Minister Lily D'Ambrosio announced approval of the transfer of mining and exploration licences from Unity Mining to Kralcopic – a subsidiary of Bendigo-based company GBM Gold – earlier this month.
But documents obtained by the Woodvale Progress Association – which opposed the transfer amid concerns for the rehabilitation of toxic evaporation ponds in the area – showed the minister had signed off on the approval on April 7.
Weeks later, the community association received official correspondence saying no decision had been made on the transfer – a claim repeated to the Bendigo Advertiser by a spokesperson for Minister D'Ambrosio.
In a cabinet shake up last week, Ms D'Ambrosio was shuffled from the resources portfolio, replaced by Wade Noonan. Questions regarding whether Ms D'Ambrosio misled the community and press over when the transfer was approved have this week been directed to Minister Noonan’s office.
A spokesperson for Mr Noonan said that his predecessor signed the approval “subject to strict conditions to address the local community’s concerns”.
“The final approval was not valid until all conditions had been met,” the spokesperson said.
“Conditions included that the new operator pass the fit-and-proper person test, meets financial stability standards to carry out the currently licensed mining activity and to pay the site’s assessed rehabilitation bond, as required under the Mineral Resources (Sustainable Development) Act.”
“The minister also required Kralcopic agree to rehabilitate two thirds of the Woodvale Ponds prior to transferring the licence.
“This requirement will be enforced through a variation to Kralcopic work plan.
“In setting these conditions, the government took into account community concerns and went beyond legal requirements by requiring the new operator to progressively rehabilitate the Woodvale Ponds and by engaging independent financial consultants Price Waterhouse Coopers to review the work of the mining regulator in assessing the licence transfer.”
“Until these conditions were satisfied, no final decision was made, until the announcement by the minister in Bendigo on 9 May.
Kralcopic and Unity were advised the Minister had approved the transfer on the 9 May at the same time as the community.”
In a letter to the editor published in Tuesday’s Advertiser, Woodvale Progress Association president Brendan Bartlett expressed his organisation’s “absolute disgust” at the state government's handling of the mining licence transfers.
In the letter, he said the decision was made “behind closed doors” while the community was “fed incorrect information designed to mislead”.
Mr Bartlett also expressed his disappointment in the Member for Bendigo East, Jacinta Allan – a minister in the state Labor government.
Ms Allan also responded to the criticism, saying she was working towards ensuring rehabilitation of the Woodvale evaporation ponds.
"I understand this is an important local issue and I have been working closely with the minister's office to get a positive outcome that will see 80 hectares of Woodvale Ponds rehabilitated," Ms Allan said.