A new mining and gas industry fund for rehabilitation that will contain hundreds of millions of dollars of resource company funded money will never be visible to the public. The pool will have been granted a ‘right to information’ blanket exclusion after concerns were raised from within the industry. QRC says without the exemption, mining company information could fall into the hands of competitors, but also blocks public access to knowledge on how much funding is being collected, and how risky the rehabilitation project is.
The exclusion has raised major concerns with the information watchdog, however, as the changes were made to the Right to Information (RTI) Act to shield industry when it was the public that pays the price when companies fail to satisfy rehabilitation responsibilities.
The new scheme will ensure around 150 resource companies pay into a government managed pool that will be used to rehabilitate abandoned mine and quarry sites across the state. Costs to rehabilitate will be made public, as will plans for mine closures, however, the details on how much each individual company will be made to pay will remain secret.
RTI act exemptions are extremely rare and are usually reserved for terrorism, intelligence, surveillance and police activities. Despite a recommendation in 2017 that there should be no further exclusions, the Government is amending the Act to exempt all documents relating to the rehabilitation fund from industry stakeholders.
Rehabilitation of closed mine sites is a matter of public interest and the community needs to know how mining companies are preparing for mine closures, and how financially responsible they are being towards the rehabilitation. Anyone living near a mine deserves to know the risk type of a mining project, and whether it’s being left a mess.
How does the new fund work?
Currently, if a mine is abandoned by its owners, taxpayers must foot the bill for rehabilitation to eliminate any environmental impact. Although the government currently holds financial assurance over the site from mine operators, the rehabilitation of a mine site could be ten times what the government holds, meaning taxpayers are left out of pocket.
The new fund ensures mine companies are footing the bill and will take extra care (hopefully) to ensure sites are rehabilitated to high standards at the closure of mines. Around $8.7 billion in rehabilitation liability currently hangs over the state’s head, with just over 8% of Queensland’s mined land rehabilitated.
The scheme works as an insurance policy or a leasing bond that will help to pay for existing abandoned sites. The rate of contribution to the pool will be assessed on risk assessment of individual companies.