AUSTRALIAN CONSERVATION FOUNDATION
14 June 2016
Mine rehabilitation overhaul needed to avoid a massive toxic legacy
A new report highlights systemic and structural failures in the regulation of mine closure and rehabilitation in Australia and recommends the federal government set up a national inquiry to avoid the fading mining boom leaving behind a massive toxic legacy.
The Australian Conservation Foundation has today released two reports – a research report by the Mineral Policy Institute (MPI) examining the extent of the problem and a collection of stories about people whose communities have got a raw deal from mining.
The MPI report finds:
- Most mine closures are unplanned and a result of economic and market factors
- A failure to reform the regulation of mine closures will result in long term pollution affecting communities, water, air and wildlife
- While companies’ exposure to risk is usually protected by subsidiary entities and limited liability, governments and the community have limited protection against the social, environmental and financial risks when a project or company fails.
“This report reveals a looming disaster that urgently requires national action if we don’t want to have a string of off-limits toxic sites around the country and the public left to pay for their ongoing maintenance,” said ACF campaigns director Paul Sinclair.
“There are more than 50,000 abandoned mines in Australia and around 75 per cent of mines close unexpectedly or without proper site rehabilitation plans.
“Australia’s environmental laws are failing to protect our reefs, rivers, forests, wildlife and people from the legacy of abandoned mines.
“From Queensland Nickel’s Yabulu Refinery – which has a tailings dam only metres away from the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area – to the McArthur River mine, to the brown coal mines in the Latrobe Valley and the Russell Vale coal mine in Sydney’s drinking water catchment, there are serious risks of ongoing pollution.
“With the mining boom fading fast and multinational mining companies offloading their assets, this problem is about to get a whole lot worse.
“ACF calls on all parties to commit to set up an inquiry into mine closure and rehabilitation in the first 100 days of the next parliament so big mining companies are made to clean up their mess, not leave polluted water and land for generations to come.”
Contact: ACF senior media adviser Josh Meadows, 0439 342 992
- The research report by the Mineral Policy Institute
- The collection of stories about people whose communities have got a raw deal from mining https://www.acfonline.org.au/news-media/media-release/mine-rehabilitation-overhaul-needed-avoid-massive-toxic-legacy
- Audio of interview with Kaye Osborn, who lives a block from the Russell Vale coal mine near Wollongong
- Audio of interview with Wendy Farmer, who lives near the Hazelwood mine in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley
- Below, the Mineral Policy Institute’s media release.
MINERAL POLICY INSTITUTE
A big hole in Australia’s long-term budget
A new report, Ground truths: Taking responsibility for Australia’s mining legacies outlines the legacy of Australia’s mining boom and makes recommendations for limiting the impact of poor rehabilitation on communities and government finances.
“Failure to control mining legacies could leave a massive and recurring budget expense, equivalent to billions of dollars per year, in perpetuity, due to ongoing environmental and social impacts which need costly management,” said Mineral Policy Institute (MPI) Chair, Dr Gavin Mudd.
The report calls for a national inquiry, with seven recommendations addressing issues of financial liabilities and reporting, regulation, life of site impact assessment, national reporting and greater jurisdictional cooperation.
“A national inquiry, full impact and closure reporting and greater jurisdictional cooperation could avoid the transfer of liability we are seeing as mine sites are closed and companies go bankrupt – leaving the cost of rehabilitation to taxpayers and local environments and communities.”
The report demonstrates how industry has acknowledged the growing problem and financial liability of mining legacies for decades and the slow response from Australian regulators. A national inquiry would be able to put a clear dollar figure on the cost of cleaning up Australia’s mine sites and propose reasonable regulatory reform.
“The financial cost of fixing mining legacies is clearly enormous, but can be solved through an effective, cooperative response. The social, economic, environmental and physiological impacts of mining are made harder to address. Australia needs to act now before the problem gets any bigger,” said MPI Executive Director and report author, Charles Roche.
“The mining industry, including the International Council on Mining and Metals, have long recognised the potential costs of mining legacies, governments should support industry with effective regulatory changes.”
Contact MPI Chair: Dr Gavin Mudd, 0419 117 494; Report author: Charles Roche 0450 901 714, Charles.firstname.lastname@example.org