Department of State Development
  • Future closure of Mintabie

About Mintabie

Mintabie is a remote opal mining town in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands in South Australia. It is in the far northwest of the State, about 300 kilometres from Coober Pedy.

Mintabie is leased to the State Government by the Anangu.

As with other areas in the APY Lands, all visitors require permits to enter Mintabie. On behalf of APY, the State Government issues 12-month licenses to people who wish to live in the town and mine the surrounding opal field. 

According to the Review Report, the population of Mintabie fluctuates throughout the year, with approximately 20 residents living there year-round, and up to 60 residents during the peak opal mining season.

People must have a residential licence to live in the town and a commercial licence to operate a business there. There are penalties for remaining in Mintabie without a licence.

After a recent review, the State Government has decided to terminate the lease of the Mintabie township on the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands.

To give residents time to make alternative arrangements, the Government has committed that the town will not close before February 2019.

Further Information

In June 2017, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation established the Mintabie Review Panel. The review was overseen by independent Chairperson Paul Case, who was appointed by the Minister. The review was undertaken by the State Government, in partnership with APY and the Commonwealth Government. The role of the Review Panel was to make recommendations to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation and the Minister for Mineral Resources and Energy, on the future management of the township area.

In addition to thorough research and investigation, members of the panel attended community meetings at Mintabie with residents and store owners. Meetings were also held with surrounding communities in the APY Lands.

The review reported that the township of Mintabie has become unstructured, run down, and that residents were living in substandard conditions. The review also raised concerns about people living in the town without the proper authority and the law and order of Mintabie.

The Review Panel made 14 recommendations to the State Government, all of which were accepted   because closing Mintabie will protect the interests of Anangu and stop the illegal and anti-social activities taking place.

The first recommendation, to close the Mintabie township, will be implemented as soon as practicable after a 12-month transition period. Then Mintabie will be handed back to APY.

Returning traditional lands

According to the Review Report, APY Lands communities want the management of the area to return to APY.

Protecting the community

According to the Review Report, closing the township will stop the occurrence of ‘book-up’ (an informal credit system) in Mintabie that has exploited vulnerable consumers on the APY Lands for many years. According to the Review Report, Anangu may have greater disposable income for the purchase of food and other essential goods without book-up in Mintabie.

The Review Report states that closing the township will also cut off a major supply route for drugs and alcohol into the APY Lands. This will have a range of positive social and economic impacts, improving the health and wellbeing of Anangu.

An appropriate police presence will be maintained to monitor and help keep the community safe.

Local training and employment

According to the Review Report, many sites in the Mintabie township have been abandoned, with rubbish remaining and derelict structures left standing.

A recent audit determined that significant remediation would be required.

Remediation may also be required due to previous damage to sacred sites in the area. According to the Review Report, there is a concern among Anangu about current damage to sacred sites and the potential for more damage during unsupervised clean-up operations.

Regional Anangu Services Aboriginal Corporation (RASAC) has indicated an interest in assisting with the clean-up of sites, and their involvement could create significant training and employment outcomes for Anangu.

The South Australian Government has committed to ensuring contracts associated with remediation meet the minimum requirement of 30% total on-site labour hours filled by Anangu personnel in line with the South Australia Industry Participation Policy.

Review of the Mintabie Lease Township Agreement
Download PDF | 3.2 MB
Government Response to the recommendations by the Mintabie Review Panel
Download PDF | 200.3 KB

Frequently Asked Questions

The State Government recently led a review of the Mintabie township.

The review was overseen by an independent Chair, Paul Case. Mr Case has significant experience in managing complex issues in mining towns in regional South Australia, as well as a strong understanding of Aboriginal affairs and the State Government.

A panel supporting the review included Traditional Owners and representatives from:

  • State Government
  • Commonwealth Government
  • APY Executive Board.

The Review Panel consulted with people in the area and took all views into account. This included people in Mintabie and the nearby Anangu communities of Indulkana and Mimili.

While it was noted that most residents in Mintabie wished to remain there, a detailed investigation uncovered significant concerns about antisocial and illegal behaviours in the area, and the review recommended the township be closed to protect the APY from these behaviours.

The Review Panel was informed that the practice of book-up was still occurring in some stores in Mintabie (as well as some stores elsewhere in the APY Lands).

Book-up is an informal credit system whereby customers can leave their ATM cards (and PIN) with store operators, who will withdraw money from their accounts, usually on the day they are paid, to pay off purchases.  

Acording to the Review Report, book-up has often resulted in much more than the debt being removed from the accounts of Anangu by some unscrupulous operators who also refuse to return the cards when the debt is finalised. All available funds are sometimes removed from accounts at the first opportunity, resulting in no funds being available to the card owner.

The practice of book-up is forbidden under the terms of the commercial licences needed to operate a business in Mintabie, but this practice continues.

The Review Panel consulted with people in the area and took all views into account. This included face-to-face community meetings with people in Mintabie and the nearby Anangu communities of Indulkana and Mimili.

The Review Panel also spoke to relevant non-government organisations that deliver services on the APY Lands and government agencies.

A full outline of the consultation activity can be found in Appendix 5 of the Review Report, and a full outline of the written correspondence received can be found in Appendix 6.

To give residents time to make alternative arrangements, the Government has committed that the town will not close before February 2019.

All people with a current licence to live in Mintabie will be given notice in writing from the State Government advising them of the date they need to have left the township.

People living in Mintabie without permission may be asked to leave at any time.

The State Government is having discussions with APY about the elderly residents.

As per the terms of the licences, all residents will be required to “make good” their site before they leave.

For now, opal mining in Mintabie can continue as usual.

The State Government is considering the future of opal mining in Mintabie and is assessing the potential impacts of closing the field. The assessment is due to be completed by 30 March 2018. After that, the State Government will make a decision about the future of opal mining in Mintabie. Key stakeholders, including the opal mining industry and APY Executive, will be given the opportunity to put forward their views.

The State Government will be working closely with people in Mintabie and the APY Lands to manage the closure of the township.

An appropriate police presence will be maintained to monitor and help keep the community safe.

Contact

Melissa Muller
Principal Policy Advisor
Resource Policy and Engagement
Mineral Resources Division
Department of the Premier and Cabinet
Phone (08) 8226 3821
Email dsdreception@sa.gov.au