Northern Territories government drops plan to involve mining industry in new environmental laws

In the brush near the outlet of Litchfield National Park’s fashionable waterfalls, a small steel plate is the only clue that something is wrong.

It says “DO NOT ENTER. The land beyond this level has been declared a restricted use area.

The mining trade, excluding oil companies, will be exempt from the brand new “chain of duties” of environmental laws.(ABC Information: Michael Franchi)

This huge fenced-off space 100 kilometers south of Darwin once housed the positioning of the Rum Jungle uranium mine, which fueled US and UK nuclear packages during the Chilly Warfare.

But nearly 50 years after its closure, Rum Jungle has done so much harm to the environment that it will be worth tens of millions of dollars to rehabilitate over the next decade.

The Rum Forest is just one of many old disused mines in the Northern Territory, where taxpayers have had to pay millions of dollars to reduce their poisoned sentences.

However, after authorities in the Northern Territory scrapped plans to tighten legal liability guidelines for mining companies, some fear they may not be the last of the so-called ‘old mines’.

“The Rum Jungle is just a signal of what we’re in the barrel about in this area, through the old mines,” said Kirsty Howey, affiliate director of the Environmental Center NT. Declared.

Promise of legal guidelines on ‘chain of duties’

In 2021, the Government of the Northern Territories announced that it would introduce legal guidelines on “chain of legal responsibility” to ensure that anyone other than a taxpayer, such as a parent company or father or director, is stopped even when a company responsible for environmental damage becomes financially bankrupt. to your account.

But authorities said last year that instead of limiting the proposed laws to fat companies – as a scientific inquiry suggests – the laws would apply to any exercise that could harm the environment, including trade. mining in the broad sense.

“It was a watershed moment in the history of landscaping in the Northern Territory,” said Ms Howey.

A tree-lined mine site seen from above.
Authorities in the Northern Territory say they have made “significant” environmental reforms.(ABC Information: Michael Franchi)

But 12 months later, the federal government’s bill shows that the proposed legal guidelines will not cover all mining operations and will only apply to grease companies.

“To our surprise…the district authorities have delivered on their promise to ensure that all mining actions are subject to these necessary ‘chain of duties’ legal guidelines,” Ms Howey said.

“Letting the mining trade roam free here is unacceptable when we need to make sure the gasoline trade follows these laws.”

A woman in glasses sits at the table and looks at the paper with a pen in her hand.
Kirsty Howey of the Environmental Middle says the NT authorities’ changes are a “backflip”.(ABC Info: Che Chorley)

Authorities’ change of coverage has also fueled anger from the Northern Land Council, which says indigenous landowners have traditionally borne the brunt of air pollution from mines.

“The NLC urges the Government of the Northern Territories to rethink the method adopted in the bills to ensure that the environmental chain of custody legal guidelines are applied to all business sectors,” said CEO Joe Martin- Garden.

“The proposed slim usefulness of (legal guidelines)…simply ensures that the potential for future legacy mining websites remains excessive.”

Queensland Nickel Refinery at Yabulu
Clive Palmer’s nickel refinery near Townsville impressed comparable legal guidelines in Queensland.(PA: Andrew Rankin)

Mining trade says many legal guidelines are already in place

Queensland handed over its personal string of legal guidelines in 2016 over considerations that taxpayers could face an estimated $100 million cleanup bill if Clive Palmer’s nickel refinery shut down.

Victoria further has legal guidelines that allow for the transfer of environmental obligations to related organizations.

But the Australian Minerals Council (MCA), which represents the mining industry, said there was no need for such legal guidance in the Northern Territory due to current liability measures.

These include the requirement for mining companies to provide security bonds to the federal government that cover the appraised value of rehabilitation.

A total of over $1.6 billion in securities is currently held for 11 active mines in the region.

Mining companies would also have to pay an annual tax of 1pc on their securities which goes directly into a separate fund to take care of old mines.

“It’s important to be very careful in a jurisdiction like the Northern Territory when looking for funding to avoid having laws that are too comprehensive or too burdensome,” said Cathryn Tilmouth, MCA’s Government Director in Northern Ireland. ‘Australia. Declared.

“The inclusion of another piece of legislation, similar to the legal chain of custody requirements, in addition to what is currently required for the tightly regulated mining trade, could raise concern among buyers.”

An aerial view of the waste rock pile at the McArthur River mine, a large rectangular body of water.
The mining industry says legal chain of custody guidelines are generally not essential in the NT due to rehabilitation bonds.(ABC Information: Michael Franchi)

The authorities are making a “significant” reform of environmental legislation

Authorities in the Northern Territory said they were dedicated to implementing all the recommendations of the scientific analysis in fracking and additional environmental reforms.

‘Labour’s regional government is implementing very powerful reforms in the Northern Territory’s environmental laws and regulations to ensure our environment is protected for future generations,’ a spokesman said.

“It contains important ongoing regulatory reforms in the mining sector.”

Proposals in the project were closed last week.

It is unclear when the federal government will introduce the bill to parliament.