A court has quashed an exploration licence on the border of Newcrest's giant Cadia goldmine in central NSW.
The licence application was made during the stewardship of disgraced mining minister Ian Macdonald in 2008 and the renewal granted in 2011.
Amid the revelations of "mates deals" by the Independent Commission Against Corruption, this judgment by Justice Nicola Pain in the NSW Land and Environment Court sends a message that the judiciary is prepared to go one step further than ICAC, and the government for that matter, and determine who should hold mining and exploration leases.
The decision represents a blow to Newcrest, Australia's biggest goldminer. Justice Pain found in favour of Gold and Copper Resources, a small exploration company run by Brian Locke, and quashed the Mining Minister's decision to renew Newcrest's exploration licence 3856.
The licence encompasses about 70 per cent of Newcrest's wholly owned exploration area in NSW and surrounds its Cadia Valley mining leases. Cadia is the biggest underground mine in Australia and contains about $200 billion in gold.
A Newcrest spokeswoman said only one of Gold and Copper's four claims was established in the judgment. "Overall, the ruling was positive for Newcrest," she said. "GCR was not able to establish its claim of false and misleading conduct in the renewal."
Mr Locke said: "We walked out with the decision quashed. End of story."
Analysts saw the judgment as posing little risk to Newcrest's other licences around the Cadia project and said there would be no impact on the group's earnings.
Gold and Copper has five legal actions in train. The next two are not over exploration leases, but concern the Cadia orebody.
One alleges that Newcrest continued to mine without a proper mining licence. For a mining licence to be awarded it should be preceded by an exploration licence.
Newcrest told the ASX last October that "none of the claims has merit" and "this exploration tenure is not material to Newcrest's mining operations".