The Woomera Prohibited Area (WPA) in South Australia has opened its doors to the mining industry, with a bill passed by federal parliament on Wednesday.
Defence will remain the primary user of the testing range, however it will now be easier for miners to secure permits for mineral exploration in the area.
South Australian resources minister Tom Koutsantonis said the move represents the potential for millions of dollars in new investment and hundreds of jobs for South Australians.
“A new access regime will allow the development of multiple mineral deposits across the breadth of the WPA, potentially transforming it into one of the country's most significant resources provinces,” he said.
The Defence Legislation Amendment (Woomera Protected Area) Bill provides provides non-defence users with long-term certainty around their ability to access the WPA and the conditions attached to that access.
The amendment will also allow commercial users of the land to make decisions about when they have to leave the area due to defence activity.
It was estimated in parliament there will be a saving of around $690,000 in administrative costs for individual applicants in the resources sector to access the WPA over the next 10 years.
Minister David Feeney said the new commercial opportunities presented in the WPA would be well-received by the South Australian Parliament.
“Given the announcement earlier this year that Holden is going to close and many jobs will be lost in South Australia, I know that former senator Don Farrell was very keen for this bill to pass and for the economic opportunities that it unlocks to be realised in the state of South Australia,” he said.
South Australian Chamber of Mines and Energy chief executive Jason Kuchel said the new changes were welcomed by the industry, but would require closer analysis of how the rules and permits for entry would function.
“We’ve been trying for five years to get this amendment to enable exploration and mining to proceed in the area such that the industry knows what the rules of entry are, but these rules are yet to be released,” he said.
“This will let companies have the choice of whether it makes economic sense to explore in the area.”
Kuchel said that certain companies had “unfettered access” during the 1990s, but that it has been very difficult over the past five years.
“This is certainly a positive step forward,” he said.