Government addresses competing interests at Woomera

Australia’s key weapons testing area, Woomera in South Australia sits on top of extensive mineral reserves, a conundrum the Federal Government is attempting to solve.

Defence Minister Stephen Smith on Thursday told parliament the Woomera Prohibited Area is Australia’s most important military testing range, ninemsn reports.

Covering 127,000 square kilometres, it is smack bang on top of the world’s major mineral regions.

According to assessments conducted by the South Australian Government, there is about $35 billion worth of iron ore, gold and other minerals inside the restricted zone.

After three years of reviews and consultations, Smith has introduced a bill titled Defence Legislation Amendment (Woomera Prohibited Area) Bill 2013, detailing how to deal with the competing interests.

He said defence would remain the prime user of the area and existing rights afforded to traditional owners would be maintained.

Going forward a framework will be established that will provide industry with a level of certainty over Defence activity in the area, allowing users to make commercial decisions with some assurance on when they would have to leave the area because of Defence operations.

The framework will also see a board established, headed up by former ALP national president Stephen Loosley, to ensure a balance between economic, security and environmental interests is struck.

The call to end uncertainty around the Woomera Prohibited Area was made in 2009 when the South Australian Chamber of Minerals and Energy (SACOME) asked the Federal Department of Defence to outline its requirements for mining companies with tenements in the region.

The WPA is one of the world's largest weapon testing range and covers more than 120 mineral exploration leases granted by the South Australian Government, according to SACOME.

The area also hosts the Coober Pedy opal fields.

But a number of companies in the past have found it difficult to get approval from the Department of Defence to develop their tenements, particularly when foreign investment is involved.

In 2009, Australian Mining reported Defence knocked back Western Plains Resources’ bid to carry out a study of its Hawks Nest magnetite deposit with the help of Chinese state-owned steel producer Wuhan Iron and Steel (WISCO).

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