NSW Government continues to address opal mining issues through legislation and independent review


The Minns Labor Government last week passed the Mining Amendment (Mineral Claims-Opal) Bill 2023 to address issues regarding the invalidity of mineral claims associated with opal mining in Lightning Ridge and White Cliffs.

This is the most recent step the NSW Government has taken to remedy the legacy issue and provide stability to miners and landholders in the region.

The amendments to the Mining Act are intended to remediate invalid decisions made by the Department of Regional NSW between 1 January 2015 and 13 February 2023. These decisions impacted 3,343 mineral claims in Lightning Ridge and White Cliffs.

The invalidly issued minerals claims were a result of errors in administrative processes put in place at the time. Some miners were required to cease all mining activities until their claims were validated.

This issue was proactively revealed by the Minister for Natural Resources on 22 May 2023.

In response to the error, the NSW Government sought to validate the claims, instituted a comprehensive refund scheme, met extensively with stakeholders and passed amendments to the Mining Act through parliament.

To date, $587,000 in administrative fees and levies have been refunded to opal miners.

In June 2023, the NSW Government announced an independent review into the statutory framework for the administration and regulation of affected small-scale titles for opal mining.

Following an open competitive tender process, former Land and Environment Court Judge and NSW Attorney General, Terry Sheahan AO, was selected to lead the independent review.

Mr Sheahan’s review will analyse the statutory framework, including issues such as land access and landholder compensation, and listen to stakeholder views to make informed recommendations to the Government.

Mr Sheahan has significant experience in undertaking legislative reviews and providing advice to Government. He will be supported by law firm Norton Rose Fulbright Australia to deliver the review. The firm has recently worked on the administration of the small-scale titles legal framework with the Department.

The independent review will also consider information provided by the Hon. Stephen Lawrence MLC, who was appointed Government Envoy to work with opal mining stakeholders on the issue of invalid mineral claims.

Stakeholder consultation will commence in late 2023 with the final report scheduled to be handed to the NSW Government by June 2024.

Minister for Natural Resources Courtney Houssos said:

“The Minns Labor Government recognises the importance of the opal mining industry to Lighting Ridge, White Cliffs and surrounding communities.

“Since the issue was uncovered, the NSW Government has worked to minimise disruption and provide certainty for those holding mineral claims, landowners and the community.

“The NSW Government remains committed to consulting with the community throughout this process.

“Passing this legislation and launching this independent review are crucial steps as we continue to address this legacy issue.”

Terry Sheahan AO said:

“The process will canvass views across the industry, including miners, landholders and the broader community.

“The review will recommend a framework which provides stability and certainty for stakeholders.”

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