Is Australia (finally) on the verge of ensuring that mining sites are properly restored?

When I (Storm) was in Australia in late 2015, doing a couple of weeks of work for the Planning Institute of Australia and the Green Building Council of Australia in the states of New South Wales and Western Australia, a Sydney city official told me “our federal government is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the mining industry.”

In the absence of federal leadership, some states are now attempting to do what many other nations have required for decades: requiring mining companies to ecologically restore closed sites. Queensland is one of them.

After lapsing due to the 2017 Queensland State election, last year’s proposed amendments to the Environmental Protection Act 1994 were reintroduced in February of 2018.

The changes would require a progressive rehabilitation and closure plan to accompany a site-specific application for a mining activity relating to a mining lease.

Under the proposed amendments, a site-specific application for a mining activity relating to a mining lease would have to be accompanied by a proposed Progressive Rehabilitation and Closure Plan (PRC Plan).

These are just baby steps, of course. Most countries that take the health of their people and natural environment seriously require a restoration bond or deposit, not just a plan.

Having the rehabilitation funds guaranteed in this manner protects the public from an all-too-common practice: mining companies make vast sums of money extracting resources—usually from publicly-owned lands—and then declare bankruptcy then the restoration bill comes due (the normal practice in the United States).

As a result, taxpayers lose twice over: their natural resources have been depleted—usually with little or no public revenue to show for it—and they have to foot the cost of rehab.

But progress is progress, so I applaud these courageous Queensland lawmakers, and hope the bill passes.

Photo courtesy of Corrs Chambers Westgarth.

See article by Brent Lillywhite and Eva Coggins of Corrs Chambers Westgarth.

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