Traditional Owners and conservationists are calling for urgent reform of the Territory’s environment and mining laws after a NT Supreme Court today appeared to set a precedent that would allow governments to set inadequate environmental security bonds for high-polluting projects.
Traditional Owners, Josephine Davey and Jack Green, and Environment Centre NT (ECNT) argued through the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) the NT Mining and Industry Minister’s calculation of the environmental security bond for the highly polluting McArthur River Mine was unlawful because it did not consider the potential impacts of the mine when fully developed.
In 2020, then NT Mining Minister Nicole Manison reduced the environment security bond from $520 million to $400 million. The security bond was subsequently increased and now sits at $476 million.
The plaintiffs also sought to have an approval for the mine expansion ruled invalid because the company had not provided a planned-mine-closure plan.
Justice Kelly found the Minister didn’t have to require Glencore to provide an environmental bond sufficient to rehabilitate the fully developed mine at the end of the mine’s life (2037). Justice Kelly found the Minister only had to require a bond sufficient to rehabilitate the site up until the end of 2020.
EDO is seeking instructions from its clients about next steps.
Jack Green, a Garawa man and one of the senior Elders and Borroloola, said: “We are disappointed with the court’s decision today. We don’t trust the mine to clean up the mess properly. We need the bond to be bigger to protect the river and our country if something goes wrong.
“We have been fighting for years against this mine. Today’s decision will not stop us. We will continue to fight to protect our community, our land and our country.”
Josephine Davey, a Gudanji woman and native title holder of the McArthur River Mine site said: “We are sad for our people, the land and our country. The government made a decision that could affect our people for thousands of years. If the mine walks away now, that river will be gone, and so will we.”
ECNT Director Dr Kirsty Howey said: “This is a devastating decision for taxpayers, a failure of mining regulation, and a disaster for anyone who lives in an area affected by mining.
“What this means is that mining companies don’t have to pay a security bond which reflects the actual lifetime cost of rehabilitating a site, and nor do they need a closure plan for the end of mine life.
“They can pack up and walk away, leaving taxpayers and the local community to pay the full cost of rehabilitation. This entrenches the current practice of mining companies taking the profits and leaving the costs to be borne by the environment, local communities, and the taxpayer.
“It’s a failure of our mining laws that this can happen, and this failure has consequences for all Australians. Security bonds are an insurance policy for the taxpayer and communities affected by mining, and we are calling for reform of mining laws.
“The government ministers making these decisions, and Glencore, won’t have to live with the toxic legacy of this mine for the next thousand years but the people of Borroloola will.
“We are proud to be standing with Jack, Josie, and the community from Borroloola who have been fighting this destructive mine for decades. We will be closely reading the judgement and considering our appeal options.”
EDO Managing Lawyer Elanor Fenge said: “Today’s judgement is a bitter blow for the people who live in and around Borroloola because they will have to live with this mine’s toxic legacy for up to 1000 years.
“This decision does not just impact the people of Borroloola; it affects all communities living near mines in the NT. Today’s judgement confirms that current NT laws do not provide communities and our environment the protection they deserve.”
Ms Fenge said EDO, ECNT and other NT organisations have over many years proposed reforms to mining laws that would give Traditional Owners and the environment the protection needed including:
- A stronger framework around security, rehabilitation and closure: Environmental bonds must be sufficient for full rehabilitation of land. These costs must not be borne by taxpayers or already-overburdened First Nations communities.
- Empowerment of Traditional Owners and communities: Affected Traditional Owners and communities must be involved at every stage of the process and should be empowered to make decisions about their own Country.
- Transparency: Regulatory decisions must be made available to the public and able to be effectively scrutinised.
- Accountability: There must be proper ministerial accountability and public oversight of mining operations. There should be open standing and merits review opportunities available for key regulatory decisions throughout the life cycle of a mine.
- Regulatory separation and resourcing: The regulation of mines, including key decisions around security bond amounts, closure and the imposition, monitoring and enforcement of environmental conditions should not sit with the Mining Minister or with the department responsible for promoting the mining industry.
EDO | James Tremain | 0419 262 254
ECNT | Dave Krantz | 0429 671 803
Grata Fund supports people and communities to hold powerful government and corporate leaders to account and achieve systemic change through the courts. Grata has provided financial backing to remove the barriers of adverse costs against Jack and Josie so they can have their case heard at court.