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.”

ACF Media Enquiries

Journalists with enquiries may contact Tom Arup on 0402 482 910. For all other enquiries please call 1800 223 669 or email action@acf.org.au.