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DISSENTING STATEMENT - PC2 IMPACTS OF METALS MINING INQUIRY

I support the dissenting statement by my Greens colleague, and inquiry chair, Dr Amanda Cohn. 

The Greens resoundingly reject the findings and recommendations in this report. It does not reflect the extensive and compelling evidence received from the community and independent experts as to the very real impacts of gold, silver, lead and zinc mining on human health, land, air and water quality in New South Wales.

This final report severely downplays the contamination issues experienced by members of the community who reside near Cadia gold mine. As the demand for a wide range of minerals continues to grow, the community should at least be able to rely upon a strong regulatory framework to protect human health and the environment. This inquiry was an opportunity for all sides of politics to work together and make recommendations to do just that. 

Outlined below is just some of what was removed from the Chair’s draft report, in the 1,000 words afforded to dissenting statements. The minutes, included as an appendices to this report, provide a record of the recommendations, committee comment, and additional evidence that were removed from the Chair’s draft by a majority voting block of government and opposition members.

Substantial evidence and committee comment was removed in relation to the three mines/mine projects that were the main focus of this Inquiry - Cadia, Bowdens and McPhillamys - including:

  • The potentially significant impacts that the Bowdens mine will have on water quality and supply, including references to acid mine drainage.
  • The results of a koala survey undertaken near the Bowdens mine site which found significant koala activity within the proposed operational areas of the mine site and less in the proposed biodiversity offset areas.
  • Evidence from tourism and wine industries of the potential impact that the Bowdens mine would have on their businesses, including extra virgin olive oil producers and wine growers.
  • Criticism of Cadia’s Environmental Protection Licence by independent water scientist, Associate Professor Ian Wright, including that it contained inadequate provisions for monitoring and controlling dust emissions from the mine.
  • The fact that gold, silver, lead and zinc do not appear in the federal Government’s Critical Minerals list.
  • Evidence that the open cut pit for the McPhillamys mine is proposed to be 450m deep and will not be rehabilitated, meaning water will continue to drain from aquifers and connected surface water into the pit for at least the next 500 years.
  • Evidence that the McPhillamys tailings dam will be constructed in the headwaters of the Belubula River and will hold approximately 46,700ML of tailings and span an area of 273 hectares, at capacity. 
  • Evidence that a population of platypus of high conservation significance live in the Belubula River.
  • Evidence from multiple witnesses from local communities that the IPC assessment process ignored their concerns and was a waste of time.
  • Calls by impacted communities, and a recommendation, for a buffer zone around mines.
  • Evidence that regardless of major lead deposits in Australia, there are no operating lead mines anywhere near the east coast or a highly populated area.
  • Evidence from an emeritus consultant neurosurgeon and a Lue landholder of the enduring health impacts that lead can have for humans, especially children, and that there is no safe level of lead for humans.
  • Compelling evidence that the response by the EPA to ongoing pollution issues experienced by residents who live near Cadia’s Newcrest mine was inadequate.
  • Multiple calls by the community for changes to the law to allow merit-based appeals to be brought in the NSW Land and Environment Court following a determination by the Independent Planning Commission on a project that has been declared State Significant Development, and where a public hearing has occurred. 
  • Committee comments expressing concern regarding the Aboriginal cultural significance of the areas to be impacted by the McPhillamys mine.

The findings and recommendations in the draft report were not radical, nor were they unachievable. In fact, they appeared to be carefully drafted by the Chair with the aim of achieving majority, if not unanimous, support by all members of the committee. This draft finding is an example of that: 

The Environment Protection Authority operates under a regulatory framework which generally includes a strong toolkit with which to regulate pollution incidents, however the lack of enforcement let the Cadia community down.

From the extensive and compelling evidence received it is shameful that this simple truth was removed as a Finding in the final report by a motion from government members.

Similarly, one draft recommendation read:

That the Government commission an independent review to consider: 

  • the assessment and approval process for mining projects – including the State Environmental Planning Policy (Resources and Energy) 2021 – to consider how the need for critical minerals to reach clean energy targets should be weighted against the health, economic and environmental impacts of mining in making such assessments and providing such approvals 
  • the inclusion of dedicated agricultural, tourism, cultural and environmental zones in New South Wales where mining projects are not permitted.

A key draft recommendation regarding health impact assessments, was also removed from the final report as a result of a motion by a member of the government. The Chair’s dissenting statement covers this in more detail.

It is particularly galling that government members moved for a new finding that the regulatory bodies responsible for mining projects, and the detailed frameworks they administer, are fundamentally sound. This finding is a kick in the guts for the witnesses and impacted communities who told us repeatedly that the regulatory framework was letting them and the environment down, and that it was not fit for purpose.

The community expects and deserves more from Upper House Inquiries. 

This report fails the hundreds of members of the Cadia Community Sustainability Network, the Mudgee Region Action Group and the Belubula Headwaters Protection Group, particularly those individuals who have had the courage and commitment to speak up and fight for their local communities and environment. 

You are heroes. Thank you. We continue the fight.

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