Queensland community groups have written to the state Environment Minister calling on the Palaszczuk Government to urgently fix loopholes in new rehabilitation legislation after a mining company was able to argue down the cost of a bond by more than $45M in court.
Late last year, Century Mining took the Queensland Environment Department to the Land Court because it disagreed with the Estimated Rehabilitation Cost (ERC), calculated by the official government model, of $230,465,718 for its Century Mine in North-West Queensland. Century argued its own estimates suggested rehabilitation would cost much less, at $173,271,205.71.
The Court ruled the ERC would be $183,916,150.06, and said there was no requirement to “slavishly” comply with the approved calculator and that the department’s estimate was merely a guideline.
Lock the Gate Alliance Queensland spokesperson Ellie Smith said, "This ruling has serious implications for the Palaszczuk Government’s recent mine rehabilitation reforms.
"One of the key reforms was the removal of the ability of mining companies to use their own calculators as a means of determining the estimated rehabilitation cost of a site.
“This key reform was in response to documented evidence that mining companies had consistently under-estimated the cost of mine rehabilitation when applying their own calculation methodologies*.
"The Century ruling effectively opens the door to mining companies once again calculating their own costs of rehabilitation.
“We are calling on the Palaszczuk Government to fix this massive loophole so well-resourced and legally-armed mining companies cannot simply appeal a rehabilitation cost, and instead proffer its own, significantly reduced estimate."
Mackay Conservation Group coordinator Peter McCallum said the court case created a worrying precedent for mines across the state, particularly for the Central Queensland coal fields.
“If mining companies are allowed to get away with failing to properly rehabilitate mine sites then our environment and farmland in Queensland will be damaged forever,” he said.
“There are billions of dollars worth of rehabilitation necessary on Queensland’s existing mines. This work creates jobs, so there are tens of thousands of jobs at risk if mining companies fail to rehabilitate properly.”
*This was documented in the Targeted Compliance Programme Report on Financial Assurance for Queensland Coal Mines (TCP-009) 29 January 2016. While this report assessed a sample of 15 coal mines, the estimated total financial assurance deficit for all QLD coal mines was estimated at $3.24bn.