In recent decades, the Commonwealth Government (Government) has progressively sought to expand the use of the Defence testing area known as the Woomera Prohibited Area (WPA). In 2014, the Government established the WPA Coexistence Framework (WPA Framework) intending to balance the interests of all users of the WPA including Defence, Aboriginal persons, traditional owners, the resources sector, pastoralists and tourists. In May 2018, the Government announced a review of the WPA Framework (2018 Review).
Submissions for the purposes of the 2018 Review are due by 5.00pm on 25 June 2018.
What is WPA?
The WPA covers 122,188 square kilometres in north-west South Australia – about the size of England – and is situated approximately 450km north-north-west of Adelaide.
The WPA is one of the largest land-based defence testing ranges in the world, and is said to be a uniquely suitable land area for testing war materiel due to its size, remoteness, low population density and quiet electromagnetic environment. The WPA also contains native title land, one of the world’s major mineral domains, and basins that contain hydrocarbons.
The WPA is prescribed as a prohibited area under Part VIB of the Defence Act 1903 (Cth) and the Woomera Prohibited Area Rule 2014 (Cth). The public may travel without permission on a small number of roads and railways within the WPA, however a permit is required for travel or use of other areas. A permit may be issued to a person (or class of person) to access the WPA for resource exploration or production, research, tourism, environmental or other purposes. There are various levels of access granted under prescribed permit levels.
Development of the Woomera Prohibited Are Coexistence Framework
In 2010-11, the Commonwealth and South Australian governments jointly undertook a review of the WPA to investigate how both its national security and economic potential could be realised. The review recommended Defence remain the primary user of the area, but acknowledged that the exploitation of the WPA’s considerable natural resources would likely bring significant economic benefit to South Australia and Australia. Specifically, the review estimated $35 billion worth of development potential, including in iron ore, gold, copper and uranium projects. Accordingly, one of the reviews’ recommendations was to establish a coexistence framework that balanced the interests of all users in the area.
In 2014, the Government established the WPA Framework. The WPA Framework was intended to provide non-Defence users with a level of certainty over Defence activity in the WPA thereby allowing users to make commercial decisions with some assurance as to when they will be requested to leave the area due to Defence activity. Under the WPA Framework, access was expanded for a range of non-defence users including resource exploration and mining companies, opal miners, tourists and environmental/research organisations.
The 2018 Review
On 11 May 2018, the Government announced the 2018 Review. The 2018 Review is aimed at identifying WPA stakeholders’ interests and how those stakeholders may use the WPA. The 2018 Review seeks to determine what is working well and what may require improvement, and how the stakeholder environment within the WPA has changed since 2014. In particular, interested parties should provide:
- details of their experiences with operating in the WPA over the last 10-15 years;
- suggestions as to how access to the WPA could be improved;
- details of new technologies that they wish to use in the WPA as part of their operations; and
- suggestions for changes that could be implemented to improve business activity, profitability and long term planning.
Making a submission
Submissions may be made online or by post. To make a submission or to access further information regarding the 2018 Review visit the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science’s ‘2018 Review’ page here.
Finlaysons has assisted numerous clients in relation to operating in the WPA. For assistance with WPA issues, or any other resources-related matters, please contact our team at Finlaysons.
This Alert is intended as an alert only. It does not purport to be comprehensive advice. Readers should seek professional advice before acting in relation to these matters.