EDO Qld is acting for Lock the Gate Alliance Ltd (LTG) in the Supreme Court to obtain reasons for the Queensland Government’s decision to approve transfer of the Blair Athol mining lease in central Queensland. LTG is concerned about the ability of junior miner Orion Mining to meet rehabilitation requirements on the site left by former operator Rio Tinto.
In late August 2017, EDO Qld filed a court application on behalf of LTG to compel the Queensland Minister for Natural Resources and Mines to provide a statement of reasons for granting an indicative approval under the Mineral Resources Act 1989 for transfer of the Blair Athol mining lease.
LTG had made several requests for formal reasons for the decision from the Department of Natural Resources and Mines. However, they were continually rejected on the basis that LTG’s interests in the decision were inadequate to have standing to be a ‘person aggrieved’.
LTG is seeking transparency in how the Government found that Orion has the resources to effectively operate and rehabilitate the Blair Athol site, and how the public interest was considered in the lease transfer.
On 15 November 2017, the hearing commenced in Court but was adjourned part way through on request by the Minister’s lawyers. This was because they could not advise the Court on the status of any final approval. However, the hearing was completed on 5 December 2017 after the Minister filed evidence about the final approval decision.
Note: This case is in addition to a separate action by Lock the Gate to also obtain reasons for the Government’s decision setting the financial assurance amount for the mine rehabilitation under the Environmental Protection Act 1994.
On 22 February 2018, the Supreme Court refused Lock the Gate’s applications to obtain statements of reasons for both Queensland Government decisions relating to transfer of Blair Athol mine.
Justice Bowskill QC essentially found that, despite being involved in numerous activities relating to the mine and rehabilitation law reform, LTG did not have the required interest in either decision that was beyond that of an ordinary member of the public. As such, LTG did not have ‘standing’ to request the reasons.
The Court’s decisions (here and here) are disappointing as it means there is reduced transparency around the Government’s consideration and approval of allowing a small company to take on a mine with existing large rehabilitation requirements.
EDO is assisting LTG in closely reviewing the Court’s reasoning.
After some 30 years, the Blair Athol thermal coal mine, located in Central QLD, was mothballed by a Rio Tinto joint venture in 2012. Significant rehabilitation issues remained on site. In mid-2016 Rio sold the mine for $1 to junior miner Orion Mining Pty Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of TerraCom Ltd. By selling the mine, Rio Tinto shifted its responsibility to rehabilitate the mine to Orion, which may not have sufficient resources to meet rehabilitation requirements – this is despite Rio giving Orion $79.6 million as part of the sale transfer.
In 2014, a Queensland Audit Office (QAO) report confirmed the general inadequacy of rehabilitation undertaken by mining companies in Queensland to date, and the inadequate regulation of rehabilitation obligations by the Government. QAO has estimated that the State has some estimated 15,000 abandoned mines that could cost up to $1 billion if they all were to be rehabilitated.