Legislative Council: Thursday, March 23, 2023



Mining (Environmental Impact of Private Mines) Amendment Bill

Second Reading

Adjourned debate on second reading.

(Continued from 1 June 2022.)

The Hon. C. BONAROS (15:50): On behalf of SA-Best, I rise to speak in support of the Mining (Environmental Impact of Private Mines) Amendment Bill 2022, and I thank the Hon. Rob Simms for again bringing this important matter to the attention of this parliament. As I have already spoken on the previous bill, I will try to keep my comments brief.

The catalyst for this bill was the proposed expansion of the White Rock Quarry at Horsnell Gully, 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 1971, along with 221 other private mines in South Australia.

The bill does not go so far as to abolish those 'protected species', but rather seeks to improve the processes by ensuring adequate consultation and transparency in relation to the cultural heritage of a site, as well as the impacts of any proposal on the health and safety of people nearby. The importance of that should not be lost on any of us. I understand the December 2022 White Rock Quarry mining operation plan was silent, or at the very least deficient, on these issues, amongst others.

The bill also seeks to ensure health and safety specifically addressed in a private mining operation plan, going forward. We have ongoing concerns about the White Rock Quarry example, particularly in relation to the potential exposure of nearby residents to the very fine silica dust produced by the extraction, crushing, screening and stockpiling processes of the mine. Let's not forget there are 17 properties currently within 500 metres of that mine.

I understand Hanson, the mine's owner, is currently undertaking a 12-month respirable crystalline silica monitoring campaign, with monthly reporting requirements to the EPA. The mine must operate below three micrograms per cubic metre on an annual average. Early data provided to the EPA appears to be showing that that is being achieved, but a final analysis of those results will only be undertaken at the end of the monitoring period. I am not sure, but the Hon. Mr Simms might be able to update us in relation to that latest development and ongoing concerns with respect to that.

We certainly have very serious concerns for the health and safety of the mine's workers, who are at risk of developing silicosis by virtue of their close work and contact with fractured rocks containing silica materials. We certainly have very grave concerns for those residents whom I alluded to, whose properties are located within 500 metres. That is not a very huge distance from the mine and its operations.

We know the devastating and irreversible impacts of silicosis have gained national attention recently, following a joint investigation by media outlets—the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and the current affairs program 60 Minutes, amongst others. We know that it is something that is on the federal government's radar. It is on this government's radar, and we are being told that there is ongoing work being done in relation to this.

Those programs, though, found that Australia's obsession with engineered countertops, in particular, has resulted in workers as young as 27 being handed devastatingly short death sentences. At least 500 stonemasons in Australia have been diagnosed to date, and that number is absolutely climbing. Miners who have been inhaling the deadly crystalline silica dust on the job are also being diagnosed at unacceptable rates, as are the workers in offices located on site at quarries.

Workplace standards have clearly failed these people and their families, and our concern is that rather than provide more protection to those workers, and indeed the people living within close proximity, we face the very real risk of exposing them to further deadly risks. Again, we know the federal government has asked Safe Work Australia to explore a future ban on engineered stone. We certainly look forward, as I am sure all members do, to swift action in this space. The Minister for Industrial Relations might be able to provide us with an update, during the course of this bill, on what the government is doing to protect South Australian workers who interact with silica dust.

That is a very important issue, and one that absolutely cannot be overlooked in the context of what we are dealing with here, but putting that to one side for a moment, we also have the very real scenario of this expansion within 500 metres of people's homes. It is a sight to behold if you were to live in one of those properties, and something that I do not think any of us would want effectively next door to us. That is not to mention the health and safety concerns and issues that we have just canvassed.

There are a multitude of reasons why we should be supporting this bill. On that front, I thank Jim, who has advocated and lobbied tirelessly on behalf of those residents in relation to this bill. I know I met him when this issue first reared its ugly head. I, together with the Hon. Robert Simms, certainly spoke in this place about that. I am really pleased that he and others continue their advocacy.

I am even more pleased that the Hon. Robert Simms introduced this bill into this place in an effort to address, as far as we can, that particular project and expansion. I thank everyone who has worked on this behind the scenes as well as the honourable member, and indicate SA-Best's absolutely wholehearted support for this bill.

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries) (15:57): I am advised that the bill the Hon. Mr Simms introduced on 1 June last year is identical to that introduced in 2021, which was defeated in this place on 13 October 2021. The bill seeks to amend the Mining Act 1971 to provide greater consistency between the regulation of private mines and all other mines regulated under the Mining Act.

Private mines are legacy mineral tenements created in recognition of existing mineral rights at the time when ownership of the state's minerals transitioned from private ownership to being vested in the Crown. This transition was enlivened by the commencement of the Mining Act in 1971. I am advised there are approximately 222 private mines across South Australia, of which 136 are actively mined and 86 are inactive.

Part 11B of the Mining Act sets out the regulatory framework for mining operations on a private mine. All other mines are regulated under the remainder of the Mining Act. The principal difference is that the Mining Act applies a narrower definition of the environment to private mines than that for all other mining tenements. This definition is used to regulate what environmental impacts must be identified and managed in conducting mining operations on a private mine.

The bill seeks to amend the Mining Act to align the definition of environment for private mines with the definition that applies to other mining tenements, on the basis that this will better reflect contemporary standards, and require that applications for new mining operations on a private mine specifically identify and address the impacts of the mining operations on the health and safety of persons in the vicinity of the private mine.

It is noted that, while there are differences between private mines and other mining leases under the Mining Act, the requirement to address environmental impacts is obligatory for all quarries and mines in South Australia. To date, contemporary assessment and regulation of private mines has been achieved through coregulatory legislation.

Recent amendments to the Mining Act and mining regulations now enable more contemporary regulation of private mines, so that robust environmental impact assessments are undertaken regardless of tenement type. This includes a more expansive and modern definition of the environment, which includes 'public health, safety and amenity', ensuring that the health and safety of persons in the vicinity of a private mine are already considered as part of the regulatory environmental impact assessment.

The amendments proposed in this bill are considered unnecessary, given the existing provisions in the Mining Act and regulations already enable the consistent regulation of private mines and other mining operations in South Australia. I am advised that, if adopted, the bill amendments would not operate retrospectively and therefore would not apply to operating approvals already submitted and under regulatory assessment, such as the Hanson White Rock Quarry application. Therefore, the government will not be supporting this bill.

The Hon. H.M. GIROLAMO (16:01): I indicate that I am the lead speaker for the opposition on this bill relating to the Mining (Environmental Impact of Private Mines) Amendment Bill 2022 seeking to amend the Mining Act of 1971 and to amend the definition of 'environment' as related to private mines and to require operators to address impacts of operations on the health and safety of persons in their vicinity.

This is a repeat bill of what was seen before and was not passed in the Legislative Council in 2021, before my time, but we are ready to discuss this again today and we are in similar agreement to what the minister just outlined before. Our position is similar to what it was previously.

The definition of 'environment' that applies to private mines in the Mining Act 1971 excludes the following: existing or permissible land uses, geological heritage values of an area, and aesthetic or cultural values of an area. This definition was subject to many, many years of extensive consultation through the reforms of the Mining Act 1971, which passed the parliament in the second session of the Fifty-Fourth Parliament.

As the process to assess the White Rock Quarry expansion proposal is still underway, there has been no evidence presented that this definition is insufficient. Any change to the definitions within the Mining Act 1971 should go through extensive public and industry consultation as part of the regular review of the act.

Private mines, many of which are designated strategic resources, have faced urban encroachment, which brings other land users and communities into close proximity. The current definition of 'environment' is already sufficiently broad to protect neighbouring communities, whilst reflecting the strategic decisions that have been made historically to allow extraction in these areas.

Resources, like those produced at the White Rock Quarry, are critical inputs for construction and infrastructure, and distance from market is a significant driver of project and building costs. These strategic resources have been encroached upon by urban expansion, but it is important that they continue to operate in accordance with the very stringent environmental standards that are currently in place.

I will finish up by repeating what I have said: changes such as these that are large, especially for such meaningful acts as the Mining Act, need to go through extensive and wideranging consultation not only with those who live directly next to the mine but those who are within the community as well.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (16:03): I want to thank honourable members for their contributions: the Hon. Connie Bonaros, the Hon. Clare Scriven and the Hon. Heidi Girolamo. As has been mentioned, the purpose of this bill really is to ensure that private mines are subject to the same consultation requirements as other mines and in particular ensure that they are required to consider the implications for the environment and health—two issues that are very important, particularly in the community around White Rock Quarry.

We have talked a bit about being tongue-tied today and tongue twisters; White Rock Quarry is a tongue twister. There has been a significant community campaign addressing the issues and the effects of the mine. The Hon. Connie Bonaros, in her remarks, queried whether it would be possible to get an update on where things are up to with White Rock Quarry. I can advise the honourable member that on 7 December 2022 there was a call from the Back Off campaign to treat private mines the same as other mines, which my bill reflects.

In September 2022, White Rock Quarry issued a warning that there was blasting occurring near the area of Pizey's Knob, which is close to the nesting grounds for falcons and a spring that flows into the main cave. I understand there have also been community meetings with the mining corporation, so there are ongoing community concerns. Whilst this bill would not prevent private mines, it would ensure that they are subject to the same requirements as other mines, and I think that is entirely appropriate.

I recognise that there is obviously not the support for this bill to advance within this place. I think that is disappointing. I think voters in the community of Bragg will be particularly disappointed with the Liberal Party's position given White Rock Quarry sits within that electorate. I think voters will also be intrigued by the position of the Labor Party because when they were in opposition, while they did not support the bill, I do want to revisit the remarks that were made at that time by the Hon. Clare Scriven on behalf of the minister in the other place. At the time the bill came to a vote, she said:

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—

that is, the Labor Party's at that time—

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 honourable member and indeed the Labor Party are now in government, so they are in a position to initiate such an investigation. Certainly, were they to establish a committee, the Greens would be very keen to be involved, and were they to inquire further into these issues, we would certainly welcome that. It is not sufficient to simply say no. I hope that the Labor Party, now they are in government, will actually look into the matter, establish a committee if they see fit and investigate through the other means that are available to them in government.

I do want to thank the Hon. Connie Bonaros, in particular, and the SA-Best party for the strong and consistent position they have taken on this and the support they have provided to the community campaign. With that, I conclude my remarks.

The council divided on the second reading:

Ayes 3

Noes 15

Majority 12


Bonaros, C. Pangallo, F. Simms, R.A. (teller)


Bourke, E.S. Centofanti, N.J. Game, S.L.
Girolamo, H.M. Hanson, J.E. Henderson, L.A.
Hood, B.R. Hood, D.G.E. Hunter, I.K.
Lee, J.S. Lensink, J.M.A. Maher, K.J.
Ngo, T.T. Scriven, C.M. (teller) Wortley, R.P.


Franks, T.A. Martin, R.B.

Second reading thus negatived.