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Private Mines Amendment Bill

8th September 2021 

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS:

This bill relates to the regulation of private mines and seeks to impose a similar regulation for private mines to other mines. By way of background, in 1971 private mines were exempt from the Mining Act, which means, unlike other tenements under the Mining Act, a private mine cannot be fortified, relinquished, suspended or cancelled and it does not expire. Private mines are antiquated; they are an old-fashioned scheme and they have very different legal protections to other mines in South Australia. I think most residents would be alarmed by the idea that you can have a private mine pushing up into your landscape, devouring that landscape and destroying your amenity.

The Mining (Environmental Impact of Private Mines) Amendment Bill seeks to amend the Mining Act of 1971 to improve community consultation and ensure consideration of the environmental and health factors associated with private mines. I think this is something that the community really expects.

Under the current act, private mines are exempt from the broader definitions of 'environment' that the commercial mineral operations are required to adhere to; that is, the impact on, and I quote directly from the act:

  • (a) land, air, water (including both surface and underground water and sea water), organisms, ecosystems, native fauna and other features or elements of the natural environment; and
  • (b) buildings, structures and other forms of infrastructure, and cultural artefacts; and
  • (c) existing or permissible land use; and
  • (d) public health, safety or amenity; and
  • (e) the geological heritage values of an area; and
  • (f) the aesthetic or cultural values of an area.

This bill simply removes the limited definition of 'environment' that exists specifically for private mines within that act and instead ensures the broader definition that exists for other mining operations in South Australia, which, importantly, includes cultural heritage, is applied. I do not think this is controversial. My view is private mines should not exist in 21st century Australia; it is an antiquated concept. But this bill does not abolish those private mines. It is a simple amendment that ensures that these mines are no longer considered a protected species when it comes to their environmental footprint.

Currently, there are approximately 222 private mines across South Australia, 186 of those are understood to be actively mined and 86 are inactive, as determined from the royalty returns. An example of the challenges the community face when they are facing off against private mines wanting to expand their operations is the White Rock Quarry in the Adelaide Hills. Despite being a bit of a tongue twister, it is also a huge dilemma for the people of that area because it has impacted on their capacity to enjoy their neighbourhood and we know that it poses significant health consequences.

While Hanson were recently informed that they would be required to revise their mining operation plan and resubmit to the Department for Environment and Water within six months, we in the Greens remain very concerned that the environmental objectives that they are currently assessed against as private mines will not take into consideration the cultural value of the site. I think that is really appalling.

This bill will not only ensure that the impact of cultural heritage is part of any approved plan, but also that the impact of the mining operations on the health and safety of the population in the vicinity of the private mine is taken into consideration. It is high time that this parliament took a strong stance against vested interests, stood up to these large corporations that are devouring our landscape and said, 'Enough is enough. Back off. Move away from private residences and put the community's health and wellbeing first and put our environment first at this time of climate crisis.'

I think all members of our community would be rightly concerned about these private mines that are devouring our landscape and they want to ensure that there are appropriate controls put in place and that is precisely what this bill does. I commend it.