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Land Council to consult Traditional Owners after Northern Territory's record $228m exploration

David Prestipino -

One of Australia's biggest land councils said it would consult Traditional Owners after the Northern Territory recorded its best exploration figures in a decade.

The Northern Land Council said it intended to meet key stakeholders to better understand the NT's record exploration, which wasn't being matched by a thriving mining industry, with only eight mines in operation. 

The NLC, which last month appointed an interim CEO and new council chair, covers the northern mainland of the NT, encompassing most of the Territory's Indigenous population.

NT mining minister Mark Monaghan said new data for mineral exploration expenditure for 2023 shot to $228.1 million, a 14 per cent increase on 2022's $199.9m, placing the Territory in the driver's seat to be among the world's leading supplier of critical minerals.

The 14 per cent rise in exploration expenditure was well above the national average increase of 5 per cent for 2023.

In addition, mineral exploration for the December 2023 quarter was $63.1m, up 10 per cent on the same quarter in 2022.

The NT government revealed in February its mining and resource industry was worth $6.2 billion.

The Federal Government recently backed mining in the NT, allocating $840m in conditional funding for Arafura Rare Earths' Nolans project, set to become the Territory's first combined rare earths mine and refinery, creating an additional 300 jobs to the 4,400 people already employed in the sector.

The NT has invested in the Middle Arm Sustainable Development precinct and has proposed a Tennant Creek to Darwin infrastructure corridor to transport gas, oil, hydrogen energy and other products as part of its ambitious target of 50 per cent renewable energy electricity consumption by 2030.

The demand for critical minerals worldwide had driven the NT's record exploration, with expenditure increases largely attributed to lithium, rare earth elements and other critical minerals.

"NT mineral exploration expenditure continues to lead the country – and Territorians are the ones set to benefit," Mr Monaghan said.

Exploration for two new critical minerals is also on the horizon after newly-discovered rare earth deposits of graphite and gallium were discovered near a remote NT town previously crippled by a major mine closure.

That same week applications for the NT government's latest round of funding to advance mineral exploration opened, with half of the $3 million funding pool for projects targeting commodities on the NT's critical minerals list, which now sits at 17 after the twin discoveries last month in Pine Creek, a small town in the Katherine region of about 320 residents.

"We are capitalising on the NT's abundance of critical minerals, and our new round of exploration grants, focused on companies who were looking for the minerals the world demands," Mr Monaghan said.

"There are exciting opportunities for the Territory to become a leading supplier of the critical minerals needed for the transition to renewable energy."

Mr Monaghan last week backed the NT government's new mining royalties legislation recently introduced to Parliament, despite criticism from Minerals Council NT on aspects of the plan.

Only eight mines - two of which are mothballed - are operating in the Territory, compared to about 125 mines in Western Australia.

"From what I’ve been told by a number of prospective companies, they're much happier with the ad valorem system we brought in recently," Mr Monaghan said.

"Ensuring the variety of rates, particularly the smaller miners where they actually look to downstream manufacturing who value ad, they're very happy in that space across the board with the changes that have been made."

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