Private Mines Amendment Bill

Bills, In Parliament, Speeches

Adjourned debate on second reading.

(Continued from 8 September 2021.)

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (17:42): I rise to speak on the Mining (Environmental Impact of Private Mines) Amendment Bill 2021 and indicate that I am the lead speaker for the opposition. This is an important matter and the opposition is pleased that the Hon. Mr Simms has brought this to the attention of the chamber and the parliament.

This is an historical phenomenon where we have private mines that operate under different requirements than commercial mines. That difference is predominantly in the definition of ‘environment’, and the details of those differences were outlined by the Hon. Mr Simms in his second reading explanation.

The opposition agrees that changes are needed. This bill, however, makes significant changes. They may well be good ones. It may well be that Labor could support them in the future, but the problem is, as there are the limitations of a private member’s bill, there has not been sufficient opportunity to both consult and then investigate what the potential ramifications of this bill are.

It will affect over 200 private mines. We have heard that there are 186 active mines and that a further 86 are inactive. The questions need to be answered of what the impact will be on these mines, both on the active and the inactive ones. What will be the impacts in the immediate term and in the longer term? What impacts will there be in terms of environmental impacts, community impacts, financial impacts and jobs? It potentially affects many millions of dollars of industry.

We need more resources for a proper consideration of this very important matter and a proper consultation than a private member’s bill can provide—and this is absolutely not any criticism whatsoever of the member, simply an acknowledgement of the limitations both in opposition and on the crossbench in terms of being able to fully investigate and analyse and consult in terms of something that might have significant ramifications.

We want to understand the impacts so that we can ensure that any changes made have the best possible outcomes for all affected parties. The opposition’s preference would be that we actually have a select committee look into this, but, of course, we are at the very end of a parliamentary session. It is therefore not feasible for a suitable select committee to be established to investigate and report within the time frame. However, I do want to put on the record that that would be a possible future action in regard to this matter.

In summary, while we cannot support this bill at this time, we are very keen to have a detailed and robust investigation in the future with a view to making changes that will address the issues that are raised with this current difference between the definitions but that will have the evidence and research behind it to ensure that we do get the best possible outcome.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (17:45): I rise to briefly speak in support of the amendment to the Mining Act 1971 put forth by my colleague the Hon. Robert Simms. This bill seeks to impose similar regulations on private mines as exist for public ones and to address the legal protections enjoyed by private mines.

As it currently stands, private mines are given far too loose a leash under the Mining Act. The 222 private mines in our state, 186 of which are currently active, are held to a different standard of environmental impact than the rest of the mines in our state are. This means that private mines are exempt from any legislated responsibility to account for existing or permissible land use, geological heritage value or the aesthetic and cultural value of an area.

It is absolutely shameful that antiquated private mines in the 21st century not only continue to exist but continue to be held to different legal standards—lesser legal standards—than public ones. It should not be seen as permissible for a public mine to expand right up to the edge of someone’s neighbourhood, so why should it be different for private mines?

When the White Rock Quarry expansion was being proposed, members of the community voiced their rightful concern and outrage. Their quality of life was being directly impacted by the quarry being in such close proximity to their homes. There were health concerns, as the quarry produces respirable crystalline silica, or RCS, which is known to cause silicosis. Bear in mind that according to the Cancer Council, there are no safe levels of RCS inhalation. Furthermore, the impact of this quarry on the surrounding environment has been lamented by those in the community, especially as it was discovered that 7.5 hectares of the land used by Hanson is actually part of a conservation park.

Faced with the evidence of a proposed expansion’s damage to residents’ health and to the surrounding environment, this upper house agreed to reject expansion plans for the White Rock Quarry ‘until residents, the government and the Environment Protection Authority can be assured there will be no impact on the nearby natural environment and community amenity’—to quote this council. But this is not enough. Opposing Hanson’s expansion plans for the White Rock Quarry does not do enough to address the crux of the issue: the fact that these mines are setting the precedent to expand right up against housing, a precedent that is allowed through the current legislature.

When Hanson resubmits their mining operation plans, the Greens want to ensure they are being held to the same environmental standards as any other mining company would be. For far too long the argument that private mines predate the residential areas that surround them has been made to justify the incursions of private mines upon South Australians and to prevent any change to their legal advantages, as if their age should remove these mines’ accountability. To the people of South Australia, the right to a clean, safe environment and community should be paramount.

The bill my colleague has put forth does not seek to put an end to private mines. Rather, it seeks to put them on equal footing with other South Australian mines and to keep them accountable. This is opposed to the current antiquated system which has opted to arbitrarily afford these mines with lesser levels of regulation. We ought to be amending the section of the Mining Act that enshrines the ability of private mines to impede upon the surrounding community, right up to our back doors. This bill provides community interests and the environment with protection, and it simply makes sense to have public and private mines be both held accountable and held accountable to the same standards as other mines.

I note that the opposition has lamented the lack of time to set up a select committee that perhaps might better enable their support. Well, I note that yesterday in the other place the Labor Party and the crossbenchers set up a select committee. Indeed, yesterday in the other place we saw powers given to the Presiding Member to use the powers only currently available to government to extend our sitting days.

If rumours are to be believed we are not in the last two weeks of sitting before the state election at all. We have just seen a select committee set up for what I would call somewhat political reasons. Why are we not able to see a select committee set up now for the Labor Party to investigate this very important issue, an issue they have just informed us they have every interest in supporting should they have more information?

Indeed, we have just seen the clock that was ticking down wound back to allow for more time for this and other important issues to be debated properly by this parliament—particularly should we be coming back in February—so that these residents, these private mines and these very important issues do not have to wait until April next year before the Labor Party takes them seriously.

The Hon. C. BONAROS (17:50): On behalf of SA-Best, I rise to speak in support of the bill, and thank the Hon. Robert Simms for bringing this matter to the attention of the parliament and, in doing so, echo everything that our colleague the Hon. Tammy Franks just outlined.

The catalyst for this bill is the proposed expansion of the White Rock Quarry—there appear to be many tongue-twisters today—located less than 10 kilometres from the Adelaide CBD. The private mine has been in operation since 1946 and, as such, enjoys special privileges and exemptions under the Mining Act, along with 221 other private mines in SA.

The bill does not go so far as to abolish this protected species, but rather seeks to improve the process by ensuring adequate consultation and transparency in relation to the cultural heritage of the site as well as the impacts of any proposal on the health and safety of people nearby. I understand the December 2020 White Rock Quarry Mine Operations Plan was silent or deficient on these issues and more. It remains to be seen what the final outcome will be but, needless to say, the community has spoken very loudly in opposition.

Earlier this year, SA-Best met with the president of the Residents Against White Rock Quarry, Jim Bastiras, who, along with many other South Australians, has passionately advocated opposition to the multiphased expansion. He came to the meeting armed with all the evidence we needed to conclude that the five-stage proposal could have absolutely devastating ramifications on so many levels. That was followed up by a public meeting which had overwhelming support. There is no question that the local community is supportive of this measure.

We were astounded that consultation did not appear to have taken place with traditional owners of the land, particularly given the real possibility that culturally significant sites exist within the development area. This includes the cave known to rock climbers as the Bachelor Pad and Aboriginal rock art. They may well enjoy the protections of the Aboriginal Heritage Act and the Heritage Places Act which, at the very least, should be explored.

The potential for serious health ramifications for people within the mine’s vicinity, with all we know about dust diseases today and silicosis, is of deep concern for local residents and the broader community. The bill seeks to ensure health and safety is specifically addressed in a mine’s private operation plans going forward.

SA-Best has legitimate concerns about this example. Let’s not forget it is within 10 kilometres of where we are right now, the CBD, where thousands of people work every day. We are concerned not only for the residents of the 17 properties currently within 500 metres of the mine, or the residents of the 50 properties that would ultimately be within that radius, we are concerned for people who live and work a kilometre away, two kilometres away or five kilometres away.

That is not even on a windy day, when children attending school nearby could be exposed to the very fine silica dust particles that we know cause the lung disease silicosis. Silicosis permanently scars the lungs, and is a horrible, horrible irreversible disease. I ask the powers that be if they would send their own children to a school situated right near a mine. Would they live there? Would they work there, with all that we know about dust diseases and silicosis?

We are truly gobsmacked there is even the possibility that a mine could be given the green light to significantly expand so close to an inhabited area and so close to residential homes. Alongside this is the absolute desecration of our irreplaceable landscape. Aesthetically, from what I have seen, the ultimate proposal would leave a gaping hole in the visual amenity of Mount Skye, a permanent reminder of mining gone mad. Local wildlife would be driven out, if even afforded the opportunity. There is just so much wrong with what is being proposed.

It is encouraging to hear that the department has either listened to, potentially, or shares some of the outrage of the community in relation to this particular plan, but following a public meeting on 10 June, as I said facilitated by the residents of the quarry, the mine operations plan was returned to the mine’s owner for further input as a result. I understand they have six months to resubmit and satisfy the very long list of unanswered questions.

We will follow that particular case with great interest in the hope that common sense prevails, but I think it is very sensible that we deal with this bill today and that we deal with this bill in a favourable manner to ensure that this cannot continue to happen across South Australia and across our residential areas, our landscape and so close to our CBD.

This is not one of those issues that is out of sight, out of mind, it is literally around the corner. With those words, and again endorsing the words of the Hon. Tammy Franks in relation to the opposition’s statement a few moments ago as to why we cannot support this, I hope there is a change of heart and indicate our wholehearted support for the bill.

The Hon. R.I. LUCAS (Treasurer) (17:56): On behalf of the government, we have the same position as the Labor opposition in that we are opposing the bill. The bill seeks to amend the definition of ‘environment’ as it relates to private mines and requires operators to address impacts of operations on the health and safety of persons in their vicinity.

There are differences between private mines and mining leases under the Mining Act; however, the requirement to address potential environmental impacts is still mandatory for all quarries and mines in South Australia. In the government’s view the bill misunderstands the Mining Act and prejudges the assessment process, which has proven to be effective. The bill to amend the Mining Act 1971 shows a lack of knowledge of the established legislation that already requires:

potential environmental impacts to be addressed for all quarries and mines in South Australia, whether regulated as a private mine or an extractive mining lease;

impacts on people and communities, in addition to health and safety, be addressed; and

science and evidence-based assessment of potential impacts in determining separation distances.

This private member’s bill has obviously been brought up in response to the proposal to expand the White Rock Quarry. Many quarries in Adelaide, including this one, predate the residential areas that now surround them. The Department for Energy and Mining is legally required to assess applications proposing to expand quarrying operations. Regulators require individual assessment of environmental impacts based on site-specific details, using science and evidence-based decision-making.

Many issues that have been raised by the community for private mines include concerns about dust, especially respirable crystalline silica, noise, vibration, light pollution, water contamination, decrease in property values, biodiversity, public safety, loss of the Hills Face Zone and loss of places which may have cultural significance.

The established government assessment process considers all of these concerns. Where an application does not adequately address regulatory requirements, DEM issues a request for further information that requires analysis of potential impact areas. Requests for information are published on DEM’s website and are publicly available to provide transparency that the government assessment process captures community concerns.

Quarry operators must clarify the scope of their proposed operations and provide risk analysis and evidence relevant to that scope. Quarry operators must submit a revised mine operations plan for reassessment before any extension of current operations will be considered. All new and revised mine operations plans are subject to technical review by DEM, EPA, DEW, SA Health and SafeWork SA.

The established regulatory framework ensures fit-for-purpose management of impacts to protect the environment and the health and safety of the community. For those reasons, we have adopted the same position as the Labor opposition in that we will be opposing this bill.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (17:59): I fear my winning streak may be coming to an end. I thank members for their contribution and, in particular, I want to thank the SA-Best party for their support of this bill.

I am disappointed to hear that the Liberal Party and the Labor Party are not supportive of this bill being advanced. I take on face value what the Labor Party has said through the Hon. Clare Scriven in terms of their support for the principle, but if that is the case, then I urge them to vote for this bill to progress at the second reading so that we can continue to keep this issue alive. Given we are going to have more sitting days potentially between now and the next election, there are going to be lots of opportunities to delve further into this and for the Labor Party to avail themselves of the information that they require.

I point out that this is not a controversial change. I doubt that that there would be huge community concern around what I am proposing. In fact, the community are on board with the changes. After all, what I am suggesting is simply an alignment with the existing requirements of consultation that apply to other mines. What I am proposing is that they be applied to private mines as well. That would ensure that the broader definition that exists for all mining operations in South Australia, including cultural heritage, is applied to both private mines and other mines.

As has been stated, the catalyst for this has really been the debate about White Rock Quarry, where residents have been rightly outraged at the fact that there is a private corporation devouring their landscape and pushing for development right in their back gardens, pushing up against their private residence. It has a terrible impact on our environment and a terrible impact on community health. I just want to put members on notice that, if this is not carried on the voices, I will be calling a division so that the community can see which members of this place stand with them and which members stand alongside the mining corporations that are seeking to tear up their neighbourhoods.

Ayes 5

Noes 16

Majority 11

Bonaros, C.Darley, J.A.Franks, T.A.
Pangallo, F.Simms, R.A. (teller)
Bourke, E.S.Centofanti, N.J.Girolamo, H.M.
Hanson, J.E.Hood, D.G.E.Hunter, I.K.
Lee, J.S.Lensink, J.M.A.Lucas, R.I. (teller)
Maher, K.J.Ngo, T.T.Pnevmatikos, I.
Scriven, C.M.Stephens, T.J.Wade, S.G.
Wortley, R.P.