The local campaign to stop mining in the Clarence Valley has taught us that Australia needs to remap its mining leases.
Currently, practically the entire continent is open to minerals exploration, including prime agricultural land, high population areas, tourist attractions, and cultural heritage sites. The Clarence Valley has them all, but the biggest concern is for the regional water catchment across the Dorrigo Plateau. It’s a steep, rugged country with high rainfall, providing all the ingredients for a mining accident to occur.
Toxic waste produced by mining is stored in ponds that cannot be effectively rehabilitated, and remain there forever, even after the mining is finished. This was revealed recently in Tasmania, where copper miner, MMG, has applied to construct a massive, 285-hectare, tailings dam inside the Tarkine forest because their two existing dams have reached capacity.
When approving mining in Australia, we continually get it wrong, and when we do, taxpayers suffer. Witness the Shenhua mine debacle that threatened prime agricultural land and should never have been approved. That dragged on for years and cost us $200 million.
In 2015 Minister Anthony Roberts visited Grafton, announcing the cancellation of Petroleum Exploration Licences in response to the coal seam gas backlash, explaining the government was offering “a one-off opportunity” to buy back the licences granted to exploration companies.
Remember the Metgasco fiasco? That company was drilling in densely populated rural areas around Casino and Lismore and should never have been granted a licence in the first place. The community backlash was huge, and that debacle cost taxpayers a further $25 million.
Rio Tinto’s effort in blowing up the 46,000-year-old rock shelters at Juukan Gorge last year is another disaster that could have been avoided and only occurred because governments, having allowed companies to spend millions of dollars exploring for minerals, are then understandably reluctant to say, “No, you can’t dig it up”.
If no-go areas for mining exploration were properly identified, all this aggravation, stress and financial cost could be eliminated. So, let’s do it.