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Law Reform · Nature & the Reef

Who should pay for Qld mine site clean up: Have your say

08 March, 2018

There is a legacy of 15,000 abandoned mine sites in Qld which have been left to be rehabilitated using government money due to weak regulation. Use our template to have your say on the issue before 9 March 2018.

The Queensland Government is facing a debt of billions of dollars to clean up abandoned mine sites. Every year the government is having to pay $3 million to ensure the Mount Morgan Mine outside Rockhampton is prevented from poisoning local rivers. This is an issue across Queensland, where we have 15,000 abandoned mine features, with 20 of these posing serious risks.

Thanks to poor operators and to poor regulation the government does not currently have enough money to clean up these sites. With the Adani Carmichael Mine threatening to disturb 28,000ha of land and potentially leave huge holes after they finish mining, something has to be done to better protect Queensland. Now is the time to strengthen the law.

HAVE YOUR SAY on the Mineral and Energy Resources (Financial Provisioning) Bill 2018.

We have provided a template submission to help you
but be sure to personalise it so it is given the weight of an individual submission!

To have your views heard, send your submission by 12pm, Friday 9 March to:

Email: egc@parliament.qld.gov.au
Post:    Committee Secretary
Economics and Governance Committee
Parliament House
George Street
Brisbane Qld 4000

Please let EDO Qld know if you have made a submission edoqld@edoqld.org.au

More about the Bill

This Bill is the part of the Queensland Government’s response to a review into the management of risks associated with the financial assurance framework for resource activities in Queensland. This review was undertaken by the Queensland Treasury Corporation (QTC), which provided its Final Report in April 2017, available here.

Financial assurance (FA) provides an ‘insurance’ against the State Government, and therefore taxpayers, being left to clean up after resource projects if they become financially unviable. FA also ideally acts to encourage progressive rehabilitation throughout a mine’s life, so that the rehabilitation is not left to the end of the mine where finances and motivation to rehabilitate the site are typically at their lowest. Too often we are seeing proponents seeking to sell off mines towards the end of the mine’s life to small, less financially secure miners, seemingly in an effort to avoid the rehabilitation costs.

The review by QTC, along with a previous report in 2014 by the Queensland Audit Office, found that Queenslander’s have been lumped with a significant debt in the billions of dollars, from poor management by the State Government of FA to date. This debt has been caused mainly by consistent discounts of up to 30% being given to miners on FA amounts, and the poor calculation of rehabilitation costs, often allowed to be undertaken by the proponents themselves without sufficient scrutiny by the State Government. The liability has also been caused by poor management of FA between State Government departments, and a failure to ensure progressive rehabilitation is undertaken to reduce the risks left at the end of a mine’s life.

The new Bill is a welcome start in reforming our FA framework to ensure it is effective, however improvements are necessary to ensure it is sufficiently strong.

The Bill, as drafted, will still allow for holes (‘voids’) from mining a site to be left unfilled, rather than placing an obligation on miners to fill these voids in and rehabilitate all land as exists in other countries, such as the USA. Why should Queensland be left with holes throughout our State, when the filling of these voids could be factored into the costs of the mine from the start if we had a State Government strong enough to require this? The companies that have profited from digging the holes and mining our resources must bear the cost of filling those holes and rehabilitating our land.

EDO Qld recommends that the Bill is amended to:  

  1. prohibit final voids being left by miners.(remove provisions allowing ‘non-use management areas’ as provided for in cl 104, new ss 126D(2) and 126C, and cl 99, amended s112, all amending the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Qld);
  2. not allow the cost of the rehabilitation and limit of impacts to the tenure site  to be excuses to not rehabilitate;
  3. ensure public scrutiny is available of the risk assessment undertaken for companies, and the FA contribution and form required - to ensure the process is transparent and accountable to the public, which will in turn increase the quality and community trust in the process (clause 201, amend s540); and
  4. for transparency, provide for extended standing for the public to seek reasons or judicial review of any decision around financial assurance or review of the transfer of environmental authorities – given that the potential risk faced by the State from poor management of FA and transfer of authorities is a public interest matter (new section required).  

EDO Qld supports some good provisions in the Bill that:

  1. require resource proponents to explicitly plan up front how they intend to leave a site once they have finished mining it through a Progressive Rehabilitation and Closure Plan (PRC Plan) (cl115, amend s160). This plan must be opened for public consultation prior to the mine being granted an environmental authority which would be is a big step forward for mining assessment in Queensland;
  2. require proponents to set rehabilitation milestones which may be more enforceable than current progressive rehabilitation conditions (cl 104, new s126D(1)(b)). However, we note that there should be limits on how flexible these milestones are allowed to be, to ensure that they are truly enforceable. Current conditions around progressive rehabilitation have been very difficult to enforce to ensure they are met. For this reason, providing a financial incentive through an adequate FA in form and amount, to encourage progressive rehabilitation, is highly beneficial in addition to these milestones; and
  3. requires all proponents to provide some form of FA (cl 173, new s297);

Residual risk payment is a further essential element of FA and rehabilitation reforms

The QTC Report recommends that a payment and process be implemented to account for residual risks left from a closed resource site, to protect the State against the damage of mine sites that continue long after the mine has been closed. It is essential that the Queensland Government accounts for this risk by introducing an upfront payment from the commencement of the mine. This will help to ensure that all impacts of a project are considered, valued and accounted for when the proponent is applying for and the government is assessing a project. Unfortunately this was not included in the Bill as it is still being considered by the State Government. EDO Qld is advocating that this initiative is introduced as part of this reform package.

Environmental Defenders Office Queensland (EDO Qld) gives a strong legal voice to the environment when needed most.

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