WE have Nathan Tinkler to thank for the NSW Auditor-General’s office investigation of mine rehabilitation liabilities in this state.
It was Anglo American’s move to sell its mothballed Dartbrook mine to a Nathan Tinkler company in early 2016 that prompted Muswellbrook Council to write to the Auditor-General’s office and ask for an urgent investigation of the state’s exposure to mine rehabilitation liabilities.
The Auditor-General’s report in May confirmed what many had long suspected – provisions to rehabilitate the state's 450 mines in NSW are inadequate, their required outcomes are vague and the risks of long-term failure are uncovered.
While the total value of deposits made by mining companies had quadrupled since 2005 from $500 million to $2.2 billion as of 2016, the cost calculation used by the government had not been adjusted since 2013, the report found.
Rehabilitation of mine sites is a sensitive subject, after the Drayton South proposal was rejected, Drayton mine closed and entered its rehabilitation phase, and multinational companies like Anglo and Rio Tinto started leaving the Hunter region.
BHP Billiton’s Mt Arthur Coal mine has many years of approved operation left, but a 2014 Planning Assessment Commission approval of a mine modification gave Muswellbrook Council the opportunity to place rehabilitation expectations firmly on the agenda, and in the consent conditions.
The council is concerned about the final landform of the state’s largest open cut coal mine site and its future impact on the Muswellbrook community. It argued it was not unreasonable to expect high rehabilitation standards from one of the country’s global companies, and the PAC agreed.
After the council expressed concern when the condition was not being met, negotiations began between Mt Arthur, the council, the Department of Planning and other NSW Government departments.
A revised rehabilitation strategy, released in May, which rejected rehabilitation to “micro-relief” across the mine site, led to the council’s decision this week to launch action against both the company and the Department of Planning, to have the consent condition enforced.
It is the second time in a week that the council has initiated legal action to ensure mining consent conditions are being met.