Law Reform · Healthy Communities

Have your say: ensure miners clean up after themselves

08 June, 2017

The Queensland Government is taking strong action to reduce the risk of taxpayers footing the bill to clean up mine sites, and to ensure that mine sites are properly rehabilitated to community expectations.TTo have your say send a submission by 15 June 2017.

he Queensland Government has recognised the significant risk posed by this existing and future possible liability and commenced a broad review of the financial assurance framework.

Two reports are out for public comment at the moment:

1) Review of Queensland’s Financial Assurance Framework, by the Queensland Treasury Corporation – which provides a considered review of the current flaws in the financial assurance framework – the framework intended to require miners to provide a monetary guarantee to the government to protect against the company going broke, and suggests a new ‘tiered’ model going forward; and

2) Discussion Paper on Better Mine Rehabilitation for Queensland, by the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection – which seeks to bring more clarity and certainty to the requirements on mines to rehabilitate their site.

The significant impact and liability left by the mining industry across Queensland has had substantial attention in recent years. The Queensland Government has recognised the significant risk posed by this existing and future possible liability and commenced a broad review of the financial assurance framework.

This review of the financial assurance framework has been led by the Queensland Treasury Corporation, a corporation sole which provides advice to the Queensland Government on finance matters, and has a mandate to manage and minimise financial risk in the public sector, amongst other things, reporting through the Under Treasurer to the Treasurer and Queensland Parliament. The Department of Environment and Heritage Protection has produced the discussion paper on Better Mine Rehabilitation policy as a part of the governments interdepartmental work in reviewing and improving the financial assurance framework.

To have your say fill out our template submission and send it to: Financial.assurance@treasury.qld.gov.au

 

Our suggested points for submissions on each of these reports are provided below:

Review of Queensland’s financial assurance framework:

  • We support the findings of the review which note the ineffectiveness of the financial assurance framework today in protecting the government, taxpayers and communities against the financial and environmental liabilities left by financially insecure mining companies.

 

  • We support the recommendations in the review that the Queensland Government:
    • Removes the discount rate applied to financial assurances – which has consistently left Queensland without sufficient financial assurance;
    • Remove the use of proponent calculators to calculate financial assurance, and replace with a consistent, verified government calculator – to ensure more consistency and accuracy in calculating financial assurance required of proponents;
    • Develop a range of policy reforms to address the holes and uncertainties in the rehabilitation and financial assurance framework. This includes the ‘Better Mine Rehabilitation for Queensland’ policy, more certain abandoned mines policy, and implementing residual risk into financial assurance calculations and other policy reforms. These policy reforms are essential to improve the rehabilitation and financial assurance framework as a whole.

 

  • Interest on pooled funds should be used to address liability of 15,000 abandoned mines in Qld. We support the suggested use of the interest obtained on the pooled financial assurance funds being used to rehabilitate the 15,000 abandoned mines the Queensland Government has been left to manage due to poor operators. This legacy has existed for too long without sufficient resourcing and attention by previous governments. Let this be the turning point, where sufficient resources are guaranteed for reducing the risks to the environment and communities posed by the many abandoned mines around our state.

 

  • Pooled fund must provide sufficient funds to address abandoned mines – current rate too low and needs review. Overall we support the risk-based, cash generating reform proposal. However, we do not support the low contribution rates for Significant Resource Entities and representative resource entities. This low contribution represents a gift for these companies which are in the best position to leverage financial assurance given their size and low risk status.  This gift comes at the cost of the government ensuring it reaps sufficient interest on the pooled funds to address the significant liability left by the 15,000 abandoned mines currently awaiting rehabilitation in Queensland, some posing significant environmental and community health risks. This rate must be reviewed with a view to the government providing sufficient funds to rehabilitate the abandoned mines in Queensland left by this industry, while still ensuring the pooled funds can provide protection against defaulting operators.

 

  • Support the annual, transparent, independent review of companies and their financial assurance. The financial risk status of all companies needs to under regular, independent and transparent review. Given the global commitments to reduce climate change emissions, and that coal is the largest mining industry in Queensland, the structural decline of this industry poses significant risk of financial instability. This risk must be managed to ensure that it is accounted for in the financial assurance framework.

 

Discussion Paper on Better Mine Rehabilitation for Queensland policy:

  • We support the following policy reforms proposed to improve rehabilitation requirements in Queensland:
    • the principle policy that “all mined land should be rehabilitated so that it able to sustain another use such as grazing, agriculture, ecosystem services or infrastructure.” This should include clarification that final landforms with open pit voids, out of pit waste dumps and above ground tailings storage dams are not classified as rehabilitated land. We further support the inclusion in the definition of rehabilitated land that it be ‘able to sustain a future post-mining land use’ as this sets a higher expectation on mining operators of the usability of post-mining land;
    • that the rehabilitation policy reforms will apply to existing mines progressively, without exception;
    • the move to clarify the Department’s policy on care and maintenance, to prevent mines entering undefined ‘care and maintenance’ periods without any review or requirement to account for their progressive rehabilitation of the site in this time;
    • the mandating of life of mine plans as a separate part of the approval process, required at the same time as approval of the environmental authority. This will ensure the government, community and proponent have considered the end of life of the mine at the time of approval in more detail. It may also ensure that progressive rehabilitation is more likely to be enforceable than under the current plans of operations;
    • the condition that the community should be consulted in regards to the life of mine plan as part of the environmental authority application process. However we believe the affected community should agree to the final land use and landform as a condition of the environmental authority approval;
    • rehabilitation performance being made available to the public annually. This should include both quantitative and qualitative assessments.

 

  • The rehabilitation of surface and groundwater resources must be referenced specifically in the rehabilitation policy. Rehabilitation of surface and groundwater impacts is not currently provided for in rehabilitation requirements and poses a significant, long term risk and undervaluing of our water resources. Long-term, post mine impacts to water resources must be considered at the time of assessment of the environmental authority and life of mine plan, and mine applications must be able to be refused if this long-term impact is seen to be unacceptable.