For the first time in 20 years, the Northern Territory is reforming its outdated mining laws. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fix the system that produced the most toxic mine in Australia: McArthur River Mine.
The NT’s mining laws are not working, and they never have. They are a significant reputation, financial and environmental risk to the Northern Territory.
Legacy mines such as Mount Todd, Rum Jungle and Redbank tarnish the landscape, leaching heavy metals and acids into waterways, with apparently little consequence for the mining companies who were responsible for the damage. The Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism (DITT) is both promoter and environmental regulator, which has led to a perception of regulatory capture. The weak environmental provisions of the Mining Management Act have given DITT a discretionary jurisdiction that largely operates behind closed doors. Compliance, monitoring and enforcement functions appear to be weak, or absent. For example, a recent NT Supreme Court case revealed that no site inspections were carried out at all by DITT at Frances Creek Mine while it was operating, despite significant environmental issues. This substandard regulation has resulted in adverse impacts for the Northern Territory’s reputation as a regulator, and the environment.
The most egregious example of regulatory failure is at McArthur River Mine. A recent report co-authored by the UNSW Global Water Institute (link to report here) and ECNT shows that DITT’s regulatory action has lagged years behind the identification of significant environmental issues at the mine site, with catastrophic impacts. Together with Jack Green and Josie Davey from Borroloola, ECNT has commenced litigation challenging Minister Nicole Manison’s decision to slash the security bond at McArthur River Mine. Enough is enough. It’s time to draw a line in the sand, including by fixing the NT’s shocking mining laws.
ECNT has put in a submission calling for 8 components to proposed reforms to the NT’s mining system:
- The regulatory reform process itself must be transparent and rigorous;
- The Department of the Environment, Parks and Water Security (DEPWS), as the proposed new mining regulator, must be adequately resourced to perform its new regulatory functions;
- The reforms must include adequate protections for Indigenous engagement in NT mining regulatory processes, as well as for sacred sites and cultural heritage;
- In accordance with leading practice, and consistent with the fracking regulatory regime in the NT, there must be regulatory separation between DEPWS and DITT. DITT must not retain any responsibility with respect to the environmental regulation of mining in the NT.
- There must be strong statutory requirements for public reporting by mines and by the regulator on compliance, monitoring and enforcement activities. There must be a strengthening of provisions for civil penalties and enforcement mechanisms available to DEPWS.
- The Minister for the Environment, not a bureaucrat from DEPWS, must have sign off on mining approvals.
- Provisions for mine closure and rehabilitation planning, as well as for security bond calculation, must be completely overhauled in accordance with regulatory best practice.
- There must be merits review available to third parties to challenge key mining approvals.
You can support our McArthur River Mine campaign to fix the NT’s mining laws by donating here on our website.