PMAT's Policy on Prospecting and Fossicking in Tasmania

Prospecting and fossicking are traditional, fun and heritage activities that often involve the whole family. Prospecting in the modern sense goes back to the arrival of Europeans in Tasmania, and has a continuous, uninterrupted history of at least 170 years. Even before this, for thousands of years Indigenous Tasmanians collected minerals such as ochre, and traded them widely across the island.

People have a fundamental right to fossick and prospect in Tasmania.

While most people choose to fossick and prospect strictly as a hobby, we have an uninterrupted history of small-scale prospectors selling materials to fund their prospecting, or even make a living. There must be a legal framework for prospectors and fossickers to sell items if they want to, without the virtually impossible barrier of obtaining a mining lease. Current Tasmanian mining law makes no allowance between a full-blown mining lease and a strictly hobby activity. Casual, mobile prospecting and fossicking is not suited to a single, definable piece of ground, and the fees and paperwork involved put this out of reach for the majority.

Prospecting is an activity whereby mineral exploration and collecting is carried out using only hand tools. However, methods for processing the wash such as small river sluices, cradles and small highbankers should be allowed, as they are interstate. These are methods for processing samples of wash already extracted from the ground using hand tools. There is no restriction on how samples are processed off-site if taken home or sent for assay in a laboratory, and there should be no restriction on how they are processed on site.

Reserves that allow mining, such as Conservation Areas and Nature Recreation Areas, are currently forbidden to prospectors. At the same time, full-scale mining is allowed in these areas. This is discriminatory and unnecessarily restrictive: No matter the strictness of environmental management conditions, a single commercial mining operation will leave more permanent environmental damage on the site than all the prospectors and fossickers in Tasmania might be able to inflict on that ground. All the land in Tasmania which is available to commercial mining must also be available for fossicking and prospecting.

There is a requirement that prospectors and fossickers obtain permission from Exploration Licence (EL) holders before accessing a tenement. The owner of a prospecting licence risks losing their licence if they prospect without written permission. At the same time, and despite a requirement that tenement holders provide written reasons for refusal, there is NO PENALTY for a tenement holder to just ignore requests from prospectors.

PMAT recognises that liaising with tenement holders is normally beneficial for both sides, and strongly encourages prospectors and fossickers to seek permission before working inside exploration licences. However, an exploration licence is not a lease on the land, and casual prospectors should not be required to obtain written permission from tenement holders before they can access an area. Tenement holders must be deemed to grant permission if no response to a request is forthcoming within a reasonable amount of time (e.g. 60 days).

More and more parts of the State are becoming reserved and inaccessible to prospectors and fossickers, including well known mineral fields. Some prospecting and fossicking activities, such as metal detecting, are far less damaging to the environment than allowable tourism ventures. PMAT will work to open up traditional mineral fields to low impact forms of fossicking and prospecting.

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Two interesting situations with mining leases that probably apply to exploration leases.
The biggest miner in Tasmania is China. (Rosebery, Savage River etc) Because they are a one party system, a Tasmanian prospector is really asking a foreign country for permission to prospect in their own country.

The second one is happening where I am right now. The miner is 100% owned by another company that is in administration. It was trading on the London exchange as an Australian company, but here it is regarded as a British company. That means it’s probably based in a tax haven with a structure designed to be hidden. The MRT ‘warehouses’ the lease because it’s paid-up and they are not interested if a company is trading while insolvent.

How many mining leases are just parked waiting for the mineral price to go up or for a company to raise more capital? Who can you contact? It’s usually the security guard or a guy playing cards all day.

The problems are higher-up than MRT.

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