The Lock the Gate Alliance has welcomed the release by the Queensland Audit Office into the Environmental Regulation of the Resource and Waste Industries as the first ray of light shone on the topic in two decades.
Lock the Gate Alliance president, Drew Hutton, said this was a damning report that reinforced everything he had been saying about the regulation of mining and environmental compliance generally in this state for the last 20 years.
Mr Hutton, the author of the recently-published Mining - the Queensland Way, made a complaint to the Criminal Justice Commission in 1992 which led to the Matthews Inquiry 1993-94 about illegal waste dumping. This inquiry looked at the environmental regulation of mining and came up with very similar conclusions to those in this report, namely:
- Almost total reliance on companies for data and no analysis of this data by the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (EHP) as well as this data being "unreliable, inaccessible and often incapable of providing timely and quality information to inform decisions."
- Little or no proactive inspections and no clear reports of non-compliance. Inspections are almost entirely complaint-driven rather than proactive.
- No progressive rehabilitation of mine sites, no inspection of "rehabilitated" sites by EHP and widespread avoidance of doing rehabilitation at all.
- Financial assurances which go nowhere near covering rehabilitation costs with no clear criteria for assessing these.
"This report essentially says that the system of environmental regulation in Queensland is one where the companies regulate themselves. The Government authorities depend on these companies to monitor their own activities, put their hands up if they have committed a breach and rehabilitating the land they have contaminated," Mr Hutton said.
"There are hundreds of thousands of hectares in Queensland contaminated by mining, much of which will never be rehabilitated and the gap between the costs of rehabilitation and financial assurances held by government is huge and likely to result in a public liability of billions of dollars.
Mr Hutton said the Auditor-General's report also did not mention a couple of other serious deficiencies in the system of environmental regulation.
- The government has no one left in the Contaminated Land Unit of EHP with any expertise. It is simply a desk with a telephone.
- The State of Environment Report which has to be done every four years has not had any figures on land disturbed by mining since 2006.
"What the Newman government calls 'cutting green tape' will simply make this situation worse by shortening the time span for considering the impacts of projects before they are approved and reducing even further the resources of the regulator,” Mr Hutton said.
"There has been no improvement in the regulation of high-impact industries in Queensland in 20 years. In fact, we have probably gone backwards because the mining boom has greatly expanded the area potentially contaminated by these activities.
See the full report here: http://www.parliament.qld.gov.au/documents/tableOffice/TabledPapers/2014/5414T4785.pdf