The spectacular ochre pits north of the Flinders ranges show both a strong cultural history and early evidence of mining.
South Australia plays host to a diversity of minerals, precious stones and oil. Like many places the mining history in South Australia was dominated by gold with it’s first discovery in 1849. Miners came across from the Goldfields of Victoria and migrant workers landed on the shores of Adelaide to take part in the Gold rush.
SA’s first mine was for silver-lead at Glen Osmond in 1941 closely followed by copper mines at Kapunda and Burra in 1842 and 1844. SA has some iconic mining areas like the opal pits of Coober Pedy with the first opal discovered in 1915 to the mammoth underground uranium mine at Roxby Downs from the 1980’s.
SA’s policy on mining rehabilitation is quite unique. Firstly they categorise mining into two sections. Extractives and non extractives. Extractives are defined in the Mining Act 1971 as sand, gravel, stone, shell, shale or clay – as opposed to Non extractives or Minerals which includes gold, silver, copper, uranium, zinc etc.
Secondly SA legacy mines are affectionately called ‘orphaned’ sites, which more accurately describes the Governments attitude to mining in South Australia. The South Australian Government has not traditionally promoted the rehabilitation of mine sites. There has been an idea that mining may occur for a period, cease for some time, and resume at a later date when new technology becomes available or the economics change.
Thirdly the responsibility of rehabilitation of extractive or non extractive mines was a responsibility of the State Government from 1972 until 2004. In 2004 the responsibility of rehabilitation of non extractives shifted back on to the mining companies. Non extractives are required to have a bond and there is an expectation these companies will do their own rehabilitation. Extractives miners are required to pay a levy (50% of the royalty they pay to the State or 10c per tonne) which makes up the Extractive Areas Rehabilitation Fund (EARF).
The EARF will be used to rehabilitate sites if the company has not rehabilitated the site or if the site has been abandoned. There is $17 million in the EARF for extractives only – sand, gravel, stone, shell, coal, oil. This fund grows by $2 million every year. For minerals there is no such fund.
The issue of legacy mining of non-extractives has not been addressed through any legislative tools. This is surprising given the higher risk activity of mining minerals which typically involve chemical processing, acids, heavy metals and or radioactive materials. The SA Department for Manufacturing, Innovation, Trade, Resources and Energy have taken the responsibility of addressing the rehabilitation of just three sites Radium Hill uranium mine, Port Pirie uranium processing and Brukunga iron sulphide.
New non-extractive mines or mineral mines are now on a bonds system, where a company has to pay an upfront bond for closure or have a bank guarantee. Future orphaned sites or legacy mines will rely on retrieving the bond, and where that falls short there is no guarantee of government funding for rehabilitation.
Existing legacy mines are dealt with on a case by case basis but would have to seek assistance through Parliament. There are many more legacy sites throughout SA where the Government has not taken any responsibility and there is no rehabilitation planned, like Mt Gunsun and Wild Dog. The limited focus on three sites indicates there is little attention in addressing the ‘non-extractive’ mining legacy sites.
For more information on mining assessments and the publics rights to engage see the SA Environmental Defenders Office fact sheet on mining law in SA.
Mining Legacies – Mt Gunsun
Mining Legacies – Wild Dog
Port Pirie – Australia Map of Nuclear sites
ARPANSA – Rehabilitation of Uranium Mine Waste Sites in Australia
Extractives rehabilitation SA discussion paper.
SA EDO mining fact sheet