For community

Attracting new investment to north central Victoria – the Goldfields ground release

North central Victoria has a long and proud association with gold exploration and mining., which has brought economic benefits, jobs and community benefits to the region.  The gold rush in the 1850s provided the impetus for European settlement across the region and laid the foundations for the economic development of the state.

Geoscience programs have identified north central Victoria as having potential for new gold discoveries. The Geological Survey of Victoria estimates there may be up to 75 million oz fact check of gold yet to be discovered in northern Victoria. 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 the area around Bendigo.

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

The tender process allows the Government to ensure that the most responsible and capable exploration companies have the opportunity to search for minerals, if they satisfy the conditions required under legislation to be awarded a minerals exploration licence.

The area is approximately 100 km north of Melbourne and extends further north for approximately 92km 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.

Minerals exploration and development is an important part of Victoria’s regional economy, bringing investment and jobs to regional areas and communities.

Encouraging responsible minerals exploration and greater engagement with communities

Through the tender process, the Government is seeking to ensure the most responsible and capable exploration companies have the opportunity 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 any rehabilitation.

Raising the bar means an increased focus on the exploration companies to exceed the normally expected and legislated standards of being a fit and proper person with an appropriate program of work; and is likely to be able to finance the proposed work and rehabilitation of the land.

Raising the bar means a greater emphasis on the exploration capability of companies, their history and their intentions for responsible exploration.

With an enhanced focus on responsible exploration, this tender seeks to attract companies that will collaborate with Traditional Owners, implement a well-designed landholder and community engagement program and be active in safeguarding the environment.

A focus on gold with no coal or gas

Priority will be given to 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.

Exploration is not permitted in National and State Parks.

Land use planning to understand features important to communities

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

The Department of Jobs, precincts and Regions compiled an inventory of data held by councils, water agencies, planning authorities, Crown Land and natural resource managers and infrastructure organisations.

This helped to build an understanding of the land use patterns and land planning and assisted in the identification of environmental, water, infrastructure and heritage features important to local communities.

Exploration involves many activities which have little impact on the ground, but if companies propose to undertake activities which exceed low impact thresholds, they are required to gain a Work Plan approval from the Victorian Earth Resources Regulator. The approval process requires companies to identify the potential risks that their activities might have on the environment as well as property and infrastructure. The approvals process also requires minerals exploration licensees also develop and implement mitigation strategies to minimise those risks.

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

Timelines

Tenderers have until 31 January 2020 to submit their proposals. Tenders will be evaluated by a panel of independent experts (Independent Assessment Panel), supported by a Responsible Minerals Exploration Advisory Panel and a Traditional Owners Advisory Panel.

Successful tenderers will be invited to apply for a minerals exploration licence.  Licence applications will be assessed against the licensing requirements for a minerals exploration licence under the Mineral Resources (Sustainable Development) Act 1990. If successful tenderers meet legislated application requirements, minerals exploration licences are likely to be granted from mid-2020.

What the tender and exploration may mean for you

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

Minerals exploration is generally very targeted and over the course of the exploration program the licensee might contact only a few landholders, seeking consent to access privately owned land. Exploration companies will not seek land access consent until they have a minerals exploration licence, and that is not likely to occur prior to mid 2020.

If a minerals explorer does access your private property (following a discussion with you about land access)  or Crown Land, they will be operating within a highly regulated regime.

Minerals exploration licenses 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.

There are more than 20 other Acts and associated Regulations that provide safeguards to national parks; waterways and aquifers; native vegetation; cultural and indigenous heritage; and threatened plants and animals.

Learn more about how minerals exploration is regulated.

Licensed minerals explorers have a duty to consult with the community, not just the landholder

Minerals explorers have a duty to consult with communities from the time they apply for a minerals exploration licence. They need to advertise their licence application in a newspaper that circulates regionally and one that circulates statewide. The advertisement will provide details about how to make submissions in relation to the licence application.

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

Legislation requires a licensee to share information with the community about any activities that may affect the community. Licensees are also required to give members of the community a reasonable opportunity to express their views about the activities.

As part of this tender process, the Victorian Government requires tenderers to submit their proposed community engagement plan. How explorers plan 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).

Information for local communities

We understand landholders and residents want to be more informed and have an opportunity to express their views on the benefits, risks and safeguards for minerals exploration and, in the much longer term, potential mining.

Our approach is to help landholders and local communities better understand what exploration involves, the licensing process and the robust regulatory environment which safeguards flora, fauna, waterways, aquifers, cultural and indigenous heritage features.

We are committed to an ongoing conversation about minerals exploration and keeping communities within the ground release area informed about efforts to encourage investment in responsible minerals exploration. We will provide opportunities for locals to express their views and ideas on the benefits, potential risks and safeguards around minerals exploration.

In recent months, we have spoken with a wide cross section of landholders, community groups and regional organisations. This includes local councils, catchment management and water authorities, and local businesses.

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 developed a better understanding of matters which interest landholders and communities and has listened to stakeholder experiences with minerals exploration.

We have met with some 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.

Keeping communities informed

We will continue to keep you up-to-date via this website and a community newsletter. Planned information sessions, group presentations and kitchen table talks will provide further opportunities to help all stakeholders and community members better understand the region’s geology, minerals exploration and how it’s regulated.

We are available for on-on-one and small group meetings within your local communities to provide more information about:

  • the tender and licensing processes
  • minerals exploration and how it is regulated
  • the geology of the region;
  • the rights and obligations of explorers;
  • the rights and obligations of landholders;
  • tools to help you negotiate land access consent with exploration companies..

If you're interested in meeting with us please register your interest using the form below.

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.

Information sessions

We are committed to an ongoing conversation about minerals exploration. Landholder and community information sessions will be held in towns across the North Central Victorian Goldfields Ground Release area in coming weeks and months.

Initial Information sessions for landholders are planned as follows:

DateTownVenueTime
19 Nov 2019RochesterRochester Bowls Club7.30pm
20 Nov 2019ElmoreElmore Bowls Club7.30pm
21 Nov 2019LockingtonLockington Bowls Club7.30pm
2 Dec 2019AxedaleAxedale Gold Club7.30pm
3 Dec 2019GoornongGoornong Hall7.30pm

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:

Lyall Grey, Senior Community and Stakeholder Engagement Officer, Minerals Development Victoria

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 1850’s gold rush.

Today, about 26 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.

A tender will be held for four minerals exploration areas (blocks) in an area east and northeast of Bendigo.

Opened on the 29 October 2019, the tender closes on 31 January 2020. Successful tenderers will gain the exclusive right to apply for a Minerals Exploration Licence over a block under the Mineral Resources (Sustainable Development) Act 1990.

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.

Once the tender is concluded, each of the successful exploration companies then have the exclusive right to apply for a minerals exploration licence for that block or blocks. The successful companies 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 and, if successful, could apply for multiple licences.

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 license 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 licenced 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.

Find out more the requirements for the protection of sites under the Aboriginal Heritage Act.

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 have been scheduled 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 611 highly-skilled jobs, comprising 470 employees and 150 contractors. Eight out of ten employees live in the Greater Bendigo region.

In 2018, the Fosterville operation directly contributed $222 million in goods and services and $61 million in wages to the local economy. Fosterville also donated an additional $120,000 in community grants and sponsorship.

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: 07 Nov 2019