For community

Learn about minerals exploration in North Central Victoria

The Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions hosted a series of online information sessions regarding the North Central Victorian Goldfields Ground Release.

In 2019, the Victorian Government opened an international tender inviting responsible minerals explorers to apply for exploration rights to blocks of land to the north and east of Bendigo. See the map of the blocks to be released as part of the tender.

Through this tender process, the government is seeking to ensure only the most responsible and capable exploration companies can search for minerals in this prized area. The tender closed on 14 February 2020.

The sessions explained the region’s geology and the geoscience work which has led to this tender process, in addition to providing an update on the tender status.

For further information, please contact Brett Millsom, Acting Manager Community and Stakeholder Engagement at mdv@ecodev.vic.gov.au or by calling 0417 674 392.

All questions submitted before and during the live recorded presentations are answered here:

Attracting new investment to north central Victoria

North central Victoria has a long and proud association with gold exploration and mining which has brought jobs, economic and community benefits to the region.

The Geological Survey of Victoria has identified this part of the state as having potential for new gold discoveries, with estimates suggesting that there may be up to  75 million ounces of gold yet to be discovered. That’s about as much gold as has been recovered in Victoria over nearly 170 years.

The success of Victoria’s largest and world class gold operation at Fosterville has sparked considerable International interest in exploring for gold in region.

The Victorian Government has released ground (blocks) for new minerals exploration licence applications via a tender process to encourage responsible minerals exploration to the east and northeast of Bendigo.

The North Central Victorian Goldfields region is approximately 100 kilometres north of Melbourne and extends further north for approximately 92 kilometres towards the town of Echuca, broadly following the channel and floodplain of the Campaspe River.

See the map of the blocks to be released as part of the tender.

A focus on gold with no coal or gas

The North Central Victorian Goldfield Ground Release prioritises exploration for gold. Proposals to explore for other minerals may also be considered if proposals for gold exploration do not meet tender requirements.

Exploration for coal and gas is not permitted as part of this release.

Encouraging responsible exploration

Through the tender process, the government is seeking to ensure only the most responsible and capable exploration companies have opportunities to search for minerals in this prized area.

Under the current legislation, applicants are required to be “a fit and proper person” to hold a licence, have an appropriate program of exploration work, and be able to finance the proposed work and rehabilitation.

This process “raises the bar” by imposing higher thresholds for exploration companies seeking a licence over blocks on offer. The criteria used to assess applications has been strengthened and expanded to ensure:

  • explorers demonstrate a coherent and compelling strategy which melds their proposed minerals exploration in the region with their overall company objectives:
  • greater emphasis on the exploration capability of companies, including the experience and qualifications of management teams and detailed information about their exploration and environmental management history;
  • detailed descriptions are provided about their exploration activities, timing and expenditure. As the block sizes are bigger than typical Victorian tenements, the explorer will require access to substantial investment funds.

Exploration companies are also expected to collaborate with Traditional Owners, implement a well-designed landholder and community engagement program and be active in safeguarding the environment.

In seeking out explorers committed to responsible exploration, the government also aims to promote companies which can identify opportunities for local communities to share in the benefits of potential minerals resource development.

Ground release timeline

The North Central Victorian Goldfields ground release tender opened on 29 October 2019 and closed on 14 February 2020.

Evaluation of tender responses for minerals exploration rights is underway.

Subject to licensing, successful tenderers will obtain exclusive mineral exploration rights for the relevant block(s).

Understanding land use and planning

All areas in Victoria are open to minerals exploration unless it is prohibited under legislation.

Prior to releasing the ground in north central Victoria, the government met with regional authorities, organisations and local farming and community leaders to identify features that required specific safeguarding during minerals exploration activity.

The government has compiled an inventory of data held by councils, water agencies, planning authorities, Crown Land and natural resource managers and infrastructure organisations. This has helped to build an understanding of land use patterns and land planning and assisted in the identification of environmental, water, infrastructure and heritage features important to local communities.

Minerals exploration and mining are not permitted in national parks, state parks and wilderness areas. Under the National Parks Act, however, certain state parks have areas where recreational prospecting and fossicking are allowed.

More than 20 laws apply to exploration and mining to protect the environment.  These laws relate to Indigenous heritage, water, Native Title, plants and animals, biodiversity and water catchment.

What the tender may mean for you

For most residents and landholders within the four blocks, the tender and subsequent licensing is unlikely to have any impact.

Minerals exploration is generally very targeted. Over the course of the exploration program the licensee might contact only a few landholders, seeking consent to access their land. Explorers cannot seek land access consent until they have a minerals exploration licence.

If a minerals explorer does access your property – following discussions with you about land access –or plans to work on Crown Land, they will operate within a highly regulated regime.

Exploration involves many activities that have little impact on the ground. If companies, however, propose to undertake activities which exceed low impact thresholds, they are required to gain a Work Plan approval from Victorian Earth Resources Regulation.

The approval process requires them to identify the potential risks that their activities might have on the environment as well as on property and infrastructure. Minerals exploration licensees must also develop and implement mitigation strategies to minimise those risks.

Work Plans are assessed and approved by Victorian Earth Resources Regulation and, where appropriate, are approved by external agencies for compliance against other relevant specific legislation (such as water, flora and fauna).

Minerals exploration licences are granted under the Minerals Resources (Sustainable Development) Act 1990. This legislation sets out licence conditions and Work Plan approval requirements. It also governs the requirements for gaining consent to private land and for working on Crown land.

Learn more about how minerals exploration is regulated.

Duty to consult with community

If a company’s tender is successful, it will progress through a further licensing stage managed by the Victorian Earth Resources Regulation unit.

At a minimum, the company will be required to advertise that its tender has been accepted and they have applied for an exploration licence. They need to advertise in a newspaper issued in the locality of the proposed exploration licence. They also need to advertise in the Wednesday edition of a newspaper issued generally throughout Victoria.

The new guideline Advertising Requirements: Guideline for Minerals Exploration, Prospecting, Retention and Mining Licence Applications (PDF - 219.7 KB) introduces an alternate method for advertising a licence application when a local newspaper is not circulating.  

The alternate method is to erect roadside signage with details of the application or notify all affected landowners and occupiers directly via letter with details of the application.

All applicants are now required to provide information to Earth Resources Regulation to enable details of the application to be published on the Earth Resources website.

The new Guideline also provides guidance on advertising applications on local radio, through councils and on social media.

The advertisement should contain information about the proposed work, along with details on how the general public may raise concerns or lodge objections before the government decides on the application. This information should also appear on the individual’s or entity’s website.

Members of the public can also view and have their say on licence applications during the 21-day objection and comment period.

If a minerals explorer is granted a minerals exploration licence, they have a legal obligation to consult with the community at the beginning of their exploration activities and throughout the duration of their licence.

As part of this tender process, the government requires tenderers to submit their proposed community engagement plan. How explorers intend to work with communities is a key aspect of the criteria on which competing explorers will be evaluated, alongside geotechnical and other responsible minerals exploration criteria.

View an infographic overview of the six phases of the tender, from ground selection to minerals exploration licensing.

Ongoing conversations about exploration

Learning about the region’s land uses and identifying regionally significant environmental, cultural heritage and infrastructure features that are important to local communities has been a key focus of community engagement

We have met with Traditional Owners, as well as local community and farming leaders associated with the Victorian Farmers Federation, Landcare, water services committees, and community groups. Initial kitchen table talks with landholders have been held, and presentations made to several Landcare and agricultural groups, as well as councils and water agencies.

We continue to speak with a wide cross section of landholders, community groups and regional organisations, including local councils, catchment management and water authorities, and local businesses.

Our conversations help communities to better understand what minerals exploration involves, the licensing process, and the robust regulatory environment protecting flora, fauna, waterways, aquifers, cultural and indigenous heritage features.

Landholders and residents need to be informed of minerals exploration projects in their region.  It is also important that they are aware of the opportunity to express their views on the benefits, risks and safeguards for minerals exploration while an application is open for public comment

Keeping communities informed

We will continue to keep you up to date via this website and community newsletters.

Goldfields Community Newsletter

If you would like to be kept up to date on information as the tender progresses, you can sign up to our newsletter.

Read our latest edition - February 2021

Read our past editions.

Information sessions

We are committed to an ongoing conversation about minerals exploration. Landholder and community information sessions have been held in towns across the North Central Victorian Goldfields Ground Release and online.

Further sessions will be posted here and advertised.

If you cannot attend a pre-planned session and want to invite us to your own small group meeting, let us know.

You can register your interest using the form below.

Register your interest

* Required field

Contact us

For any other enquiries please contact:

Brett Millsom, Acting Manager Community and Stakeholder Engagement

Frequently Asked Questions

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In October 2019, the Minister for Resources announced more ground would be made available for minerals exploration to the east and northeast of Bendigo through a competitive tender.

Covering an area of 1,565 square kilometres, the North Central Victorian Goldfields Ground Release has been divided into four minerals exploration areas (blocks).

Our new approach to minerals exploration is designed to attract companies with a track record of good exploration practices, environmental management and community engagement.

The North Central Victorian Goldfields Ground Release is designed to attract new investment in exploration for gold and other metals in regional Victoria.

The ground release excludes exploration for coal or gas. By law, minerals exploration and mining are not permitted in National or State Parks or wilderness areas.

Minerals help make everything that provides our modern lifestyle. Mined materials are needed to construct our homes, roads and hospitals, to generate electricity, to build automobiles and aeroplanes, to make computers, televisions, mobile phones and satellites.

Victoria has a long history of minerals exploration and mining which dates to the 1850s gold rush.

Today, about 40 per cent of Victoria’s land mass is under a minerals exploration licence, yet only 0.02 per cent is under a Mining Licence.

Minerals exploration and mining are also economically important, bringing national and international investment and employment to the State and to the regions.

The North Central Goldfields Ground Release is a key action that helps to implement the Victorian Government’s Minerals Strategy. This strategy is about fostering investment and jobs across regional Victoria.

The tender is for four minerals exploration areas (blocks) in an area east and northeast of Bendigo.

Opened on the 29 October 2019, the tender closed on 14 February 2020. Successful tenderers (subject to licensing) will gain the exclusive mineral exploration rights for the relevant block(s).

In Victoria, companies generally apply "over the counter" for a minerals exploration licence. A licence is generally issued after Native Title requirements are satisfied, if the company meets minimum requirements set out under the legislation, and if there is no licence already over the area. With the The North Central Goldfields Ground Release, we are taking a strategic approach to the release of ground for exploration in north central Victoria because there is significant international interest and geological data indicating that the area is prospective for gold and other minerals.

Requiring the companies to compete in a tender process allows us to select the best minerals exploration programs and the most appropriate explorers with good social values and a commitment to working with Traditional Owners, local communities and landholders.

Successful tenderers (subject to licensing) will gain the exclusive mineral exploration rights for the relevant block(s).The successful tenderers will still need to pass the minimum legislative requirements , including passing a fit and proper person test, providing evidence of an appropriate exploration work program and demonstrating that they can fund both the work and a rehabilitation bond.

No. Exploration for coal or gas will not be allowed.

In Victoria the Crown owns all minerals. This allows us to give companies permission - through a licensing system - to explore for minerals, on either Crown land or privately owned land. A minerals explorer must have a licence in place before any exploration activities can occur.

Go to Mining Licences Near Me to find out who holds the exploration or mining licence near you.

The licensed exploration company must have either the informed consent of the landholder or a written registered compensation agreement prior to any exploration activities taking place on privately owned land.

The landholder has the right to negotiate the terms and conditions and any compensation around access to private land.

We have developed a land access consent agreement tool to assist landowners and explorers through this process.

If agreement on land access can’t be reached, the matter can be referred to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) for a determination regarding compensation (but not the right of access – which is bestowed upon licence holders under the legislation).

Fine out more about dispute resolution.

Minerals exploration is good for regional economies. It sees contractors and businesses spending locally on a range of activities including services, accommodation, food, fuel and equipment.

At a local level, landowners can be directly compensated by explorers for access to their land. This can be in cash or in kind. Also, exploration companies may choose to provide additional contributions, financial or in-kind, even when compensation is not needed.

As part of the tender process, companies who want to secure an exploration licence will need to demonstrate they are capable and willing to work closely with landholders and the farming community, before a licence is granted.

The Act does not specify whether exploration companies are to pay to access privately held land. This matter is negotiable between the land owner or land occupier and the exploration company.

The Act specifies that compensation is payable to the land owner or occupier for any of the following (as long as they arise from exploration work or a proposal to carry out the activity):

  • Deprivation of possession of the whole or part of the surface of the land
  • Damage to the surface of the land and to any improvements on the land
  • Access from one paddock to another is severed by exploration works
  • Loss of amenity including recreational and conservation values
  • Loss of opportunity to make planned improvements
  • Any decrease in market value of the owner’s or occupier’s interest in the land
  • Any reasonable incidental expense in obtaining or moving to replace land (when required).

The Act does not state that these are only factors for which compensation is payable. Additional items can be negotiated between the parties.

Compensation is not payable for the value of the minerals, nor is it a prerequisite for landholder consent.

Compensation is usually agreed by negotiation between the landholder and the exploration licensee.

Compensation can include a financial payment but may also involve work in lieu of a financial payment (such as new fencing or road grading).

Compensation agreements must be in writing and lodged with the mining registrar for registration.

We recommend you seek legal advice before you enter into a compensation agreement.

Any amount of compensation agreed to be paid is not affected by any subsequent change in the ownership or occupancy of land. New owners or occupiers cannot seek further compensation.

The compensation agreement remains with the land not the landholder.

The exploration company is required to have public liability insurance. This insurance must cover all work authorised under the licence and must always be valid while work occurs under the licence.

Water is subject to well-established controls allowing for a variety of uses, including a very robust regulatory framework that considers impacts on the environment. Conditions for protection of groundwater are imposed on an exploration or mining licence.

The Code of Practice for Mineral Exploration sets out the recommended practices for drill operation and bore construction, managing aquifers, operating sumps and decommissioning drill holes. Once sampling and testing activities have been completed, drill holes are to be decommissioned in accordance with Victoria’s Guidelines for environmental management in exploration and mining.

Causing groundwater to be polluted is an offence under the Environment Protection Act 1970.

Minerals exploration companies will require an approved Work Plan from the department if their exploration activities extend beyond what is considered low impact. As part of the Work Plan the licensee is required to describe the strategies it will use to safeguard the environment and other features including a Trust for Nature Covenant, which might be vulnerable to exploration activities.

The department can refer these Work Plans to the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) and water authorities and others for consideration of the potential impact of exploration against the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act, Water Act, and so on. Referral agencies like DELWP can request a change in the Work Plan prior to it being approved for implementation.

It is an offence under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 to knowingly, recklessly or negligently undertake an action that harms or is likely to harm an Aboriginal place or object without a Cultural Heritage Permit or an approved Cultural Heritage Management Plan in place.

Most minerals exploration activities have no or low impacts on the ground. These include aerial surveying, soil sampling, testing, mapping and analysis, and in some cases, drilling. As better knowledge of mineralisation is achieved and as prospectivity improves, drilling becomes more targeted and the distribution of drill holes narrows (more drill holes per square kilometre). Licensed minerals explorers require an Work Plan, approved by Earth Resources Regulation, when activity exceeds low impact thresholds.

There is no financial cost to lodge a tender. The tender is merit based – tenderers will be evaluated on their demonstrated minerals exploration capability, their proposed minerals exploration work program, financial viability and their commitment to responsible exploration.

Responsible exploration includes the company’s demonstrated experience in and intentions to collaborate with Traditional Owners, engagement with landholders and local communities, respecting the environment and sustainability and local content.

A maximum of four explorers will be allocated minerals exploration licences for the North Central Victorian Goldfields ground release – one per block. Explorers may choose to tender for more than one block.

Each licensee has exclusive rights over a specific geographic area over a specified period, generally five years. A licensee may choose to seek an extension to the licence but is required to relinquish parcels of their licence area (25 per cent - year 2, an additional 35 per cent - year 4, an additional 20 per cent - year 7 and an additional 10 per cent in year 10).

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Victorian legislation prohibits minerals exploration and mining in National Parks (e.g. the Greater Bendigo or Grampians National Park), State Parks (e.g. Kooyoora State Park and Mt Arapiles State Park), and in wilderness areas. Exploration is also prohibited in the You Yangs Regional Park and the Mitchell River Floodplain.

Our Earth Resources Regulation unit is responsible for setting and reviewing rehabilitation bonds for exploration and mining companies as required by the Mineral Resources (Sustainable Development) Act 1990 (MRSD Act).

A rehabilitation bond is a financial security which must be provided by an operator prior to commencing work. This is to ensure rehabilitation can be undertaken by us should the operator be unable to meet their rehabilitation obligations.

The likelihood of minerals exploration projects leading to mining is very low. In Victoria only about one in 300 exploration projects leads to an operating mine.

The low conversion rates from exploration to mining development reflects the difficulty in discovering a minerals deposit that is commercially viable. First, a minerals exploration licensee must find a deposit - an accumulation of minerals which is sufficiently large and in a concentration that might have economic value.

Second, a licensee must determine if it might be economically viable to extract the deposit. This in part depends upon the type and depth of the cover rock. But just like the agricultural produce grown in Victoria, much also depends on production costs, commodity prices, transport costs, international supply competition and demand, as well as exchange rates.

To build and operate a mine, a company needs to apply for and be awarded a mining licence and gain all the approvals required under legislation.

Detailed, stringent approvals processes apply, including the requirement for detailed studies to assess potential environmental, social and economic impacts. Applicants are also required to outline how these potential impacts will be managed and to consult extensively with local communities.

The mine licensee may be required to prepare an Environment Effects Statement (EES). An EES usually contains a description of the existing environment; potential impacts and proposed control measures; a proposed monitoring program; and an outline of public and stakeholder consultation.

The approvals process can take several years. On average, the time between early stage minerals exploration and mining commencement is between 15 and 20 years.

If commercially viable mineral resources are found, the exploration licensee may apply for a mining licence.

The granting of the mining licence transfers mineral rights from the Crown to the licensee, but it does not give the licensee authority to carry out mining operations.

Mining can only begin when a suite of regulatory approvals has been gained, including planning permission (from Department of Environment Land, Water and Planning and councils), work plan approval from the Earth Resources Regulation, the lodging a rehabilitation bond and securing landholder agreements.

Planning permissions may require an Environmental Effects Statement to assess the likely environmental, social and economic impacts of mining and how these will be mitigated by the company.

Applications for a mining licence must be advertised and members of the public are given an opportunity to make submissions.

Minerals exploration companies must have a minerals exploration licence, issued by the Earth Resources Regulation allowing them to undertake a range of low impact exploration activities, including drilling.

Under a Minerals Exploration Licence the licensee must ensure all reasonable measures are taken to minimise the impacts of drilling operations and that the operations are conducted in a manner that ensures that the environmental values and the beneficial uses of the ground water systems are conserved and protected.

The licensee must:

  • prevent contamination of aquifers as a result of drilling operations
  • ensure a temporary cap is fitted when a drill hole is to be left open overnight or longer
  • keep accurate records of decommissioning procedures for future reference, and to demonstrate that the drill holes have been satisfactorily plugged
  • not drill within 200 metres of a named waterway or within 100 metres of an irrigation channel.

If a minerals exploration company intends to drill a groundwater bore for water supplies, drainage, dewatering or groundwater monitoring, it must also be licensed under the Water Act 1989.

The activities of licensed minerals exploration companies are governed by more than 20 Acts and Regulations. Legislation which helps safeguard the things important to a community, include the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act, Water Act, Aboriginal Heritage Act, Environmental Protection Act, Catchment and Land Protection Act.

Most minerals exploration activities have minimal or no impact on the ground. This includes, soil and rock sampling, stream water sampling, in-field and aerial surveying and in some cases, drilling.

Exploration companies must obtain a work plan approval when their activities are likely to exceed certain threshold limits which define low impact exploration. These threshold limits relate to matters such as waterways, flora and fauna, native vegetation, and cultural heritage.

To obtain a work plan, the company exploration must describe its exploration activities in detail, identify each of the environmental and other risks posed by the activity and outline the strategies that will be employed to mitigate those risks.

Earth Resources Regulation assess these work plans and may refer matters to other agencies for assessment.

The tender allows us to raise the bar on the environmental practices of licensees by requiring companies to demonstrate their strong commitment to, and track record of, responsible exploration.

The tender requires companies to describe their approach for environmental management as part of their proposed exploration program. This will be assessed by an independent evaluation panel.

Additionally, companies will be evaluated on their environment policies and environmental risk assessment tools and procedures; how environmental management controls are communicated to employees and contractors; and whether they have had any environmental non-compliance issues or breaches in the last 5 years.

In addition, the government’s Code of Practice for Mineral Exploration provides practical guidance to explorers about how exploration work should be conducted in Victoria to meet regulatory requirements and environmental standards.

Minerals exploration licensees must ensure Aboriginal cultural heritage is not harmed as a result of their work. Licensees must prepare a Cultural Heritage Management Plan for any areas of cultural heritage sensitivity.

We are engaging closely with local communities across the north central Victoria goldfields ground release area to:

  • hear views about minerals exploration;
  • help locals understand more about the region’s geology;
  • explain how minerals exploration is often low impact and targeted;
  • describe how minerals exploration is regulated;
  • improve knowledge about the tender and licensing processes and landholder rights.

Five community information sessions were held in November and December 2019 throughout towns across the region: Lockington, Rochester, Elmore, Goornong and Axedale.

We are keen to hear the views of farmers and other landholders, community groups, individual businesses and residents.

Since the beginning of June 2019, we have spoken with more than 50 community and farming leaders, met with Councillors and senior executives from three local councils, and consulted with Traditional Owners. We also met with Agriculture Victoria, Department Environment Land Water and Planning and Regional Development Victoria.

We also met with more than 500 local landowners at the Elmore Field Days to discuss the ground release, the our land access tool and the safeguards for groundwater and the environment.

We listened to ideas about how to improve relationships between exploration companies and communities on land access issues. We’ve also gained insights into how new exploration investment might help boost local economies.

Comprehensive engagement with landholders, community groups and interested individuals will continue over coming months. This includes attendance at agricultural field days, as well as briefings with small groups and individuals when requested by community members. Register your interest in meeting with us.

Minerals exploration and development have the potential to bring jobs and other economic benefits to regional communities.

The exploration phase typically generates demand for the provision of local services, such as earth moving, equipment hire, accommodation, fuel and meals to support specialist exploration contractors.

If exploration is successful and a mining operation is approved, income and investment generated can be significant.

For example, Kirkland lake Gold’s Fosterville operation supports 613 highly-skilled jobs, comprising 472 employees and 150 contractors. Eight out of 10 employees live in the Greater Bendigo region. Fosterville has also donated over $130,000 through its community grants and sponsorship programs.

The minerals exploration and mining industry is a significant contributor to employment and economic wealth for the region. In 2019, minerals exploration licence holders within the north central Victoria council areas spent $18.2 million on local exploration activities, while the mining industry spent $301.6 million on goods and services in the Bendigo municipality alone.

Exploration, mining and agriculture are significant industries for regional Victoria, and both readily co-exist to support jobs and generate export revenue. Licensed exploration activity is currently taking place right across north central Victoria, with many of these tenement areas over prime agricultural land.

Victoria is Australia’s largest producer and exporter of food and fibre products, and we enjoy a good reputation for quality, safety and reliability. Victoria’s strong regulatory environment maintains this reputation while enabling mining to contribute to productivity and employment.

Biosecurity is a matter that minerals exploration licensees are required to address. Licensees must adhere to any biosecurity protocols that have been adopted on private or Crown land.

The licensee must ensure all soil imported into the exploration licence area is free of disease and noxious weeds. They must also take all reasonable measures to minimise the spread of noxious weeds, pest animals and plant diseases while undertaking exploration activities.

Find out more

Page last updated: 02 Jun 2021