A group that has spent more than a year opposing mining exploration applications in Albany’s west has hit out at the State’s plans for a $859 fee to be introduced to formally lodge objections to applications. A proposal from the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety, currently facing a public comment period, would see a flat fee of $859 per objection introduced to help recover the cost of handling them from July 1 next year. A consultation paper compiled by DMIRS indicates the number of formal objections climbed to almost 4000 in the 2021-22 financial year, almost doubling from the previous 12 months. In 2022-23, the number of objections fell to 3328, but remained significantly higher than 2020-21. The rise in objections was not matched by a similarly significant rise in tenement applications, as the number of applications grew from 4393 in 2020-21 to 4571 in 2021-22 and then to 4726 in 2022-23. The consultation paper also indicated there had previously been a fee for lodging objections until it was removed in December 1993. The paper states the fee would support further staffing — including funding a second Perth-based warden on an ongoing basis — to help process objections and limit the time it takes for hearing dates to come before the courts. “Concerns were expressed by industry representative groups and individual companies regarding delays and the availability of dates for the hearing of matters,” the paper states. “The delays in available hearing dates approached 10 to 12 months in October 2021. “Since the appointment of a second Perth warden in May 2022, dates for hearings requiring more than one hearing day are now available within two months.” Community members and landholders in the Torbay, Marbellup and Elleker area have been fighting to prevent the approval of a number of mining exploration applications in the area since February last year. The applications, primarily made on behalf of Mac Sands Pty Ltd, cover areas over 150 landholdings. Two months ago, the City of Albany council moved to add its support to the objectors by voting to write to the mines minister to express how stressing the continued applications had become for residents in the area. It also moved to create a new policy designed to deal with future mining applications relating to land it controls. This week more than 50 residents attended the latest hearing at Albany courthouse in their battle to stop mining in the region. Wendy Coffey has been one of the leading objectors to exploration applications. She said there had been exploration applications lodged for five tenements in the Torbay and Elleker areas since January last year and 249 objections had been submitted against them. “At $859 each, that would mean revenue to the Government of $213,891, out of the pockets of our local community, just to exercise our right to object,” she said. “It seems completely out of proportion and excessive.” Fellow objector Tony Higgs said he was appalled there was a proposed fee and that it had been set so high. “I am sure the recent increase in objections is the result of mining companies moving into populated areas with mixed land use,” he said. “Shouldn’t the mining companies be paying not the objector? “If the Government was serious about preventing environmental and other damage as a consequence of mining then, who better to ask than the people who live there? Torbay Catchment Group chair Diane Evers said she wanted “all landholders and residents to make a submission against these fees”. “There will be more exploration applications, and they may be over your land or an area you want to protect,” she said. “This new fee may prevent you and others from objecting.” A DMIRS spokesman said there was no other similar fee-free tribunal court in WA. “The fee for objections is not designed to stop community scrutiny of mining activities,” he said. “Applying a fee for objections is consistent with the cost recovery policy for government services.” The consultation paper is available on the DMIRS website and the public consultation period will run until Tuesday, November 21. The spokesman said DMIRS “welcomes submissions regarding the proposed model and fee” but that “the increase in objections and increased cost of administering the objection process can no longer be sustained on a fee-free basis”.