Tasmania is highly mineralised and has a rich mining history. But that history has come at a high price - the industry has left in its wake a legacy of serious pollution and degraded landscapes, most notoriously evidenced by the Queenstown hills and the heavily polluted Queen and King Rivers. Much has changed in the last 30 years in what we expect from miners and how their activities are regulated.
Investment and demand from China and India have more recently caused significant growth in the mining industry. In 2012, mining accounted for approximately half of Tasmania’s exports and there is considerable pressure for expansion in this State. Tasmania’s Economic Development Plan supports this expansion, and outlines measures to aid the mining industry.
There are currently over 65 mining leases for various minerals throughout Tasmania, and a number of significant new mining proposals under consideration. Existing operations range in size from 3ha gemfields to the large leases in Roseberry and Port Latta, each of which is more than 4,500ha in size. Tasmania’s mines produce a wide range of minerals, with the largest exports being iron and iron ore, coal, tin, limestone (for cement) and silver.
Mining leases have also been granted for over 400 quarries in Tasmania, ranging in size and production limits. For example, nearly 200 quarries produce stone and gravel, ranging from 1ha quarry operations to the large 700ha quarry lease in Leslie Vale.
⇔ More information about Tasmania’s mining industry is available from Mineral Resources Tasmania.
There is potential for significant tension between mining activities (including exploration) and environmental protection in Tasmania. A good example of this tension is the recent controversy surrounding the proposed national heritage listing of the Tarkine area in North West Tasmania. While the entire Tarkine area was nominated for inclusion on the National Heritage List, only a small portion of land was eventually listed. The Federal Environment Minister acknowledged that the area had important natural values, but clearly stated that his decision to exclude the larger area from the National Heritage listing was based on the negative economic impact that a more expansive listing may have on mining in the region (which is currently subject to a number of significant mining proposals).
☛ Go to Chapter 7 for more details regarding the National Heritage List.
While mining is generally regarded as good for the Tasmanian economy, it has the potential to impact negatively upon our natural resources and must therefore be subject to rigorous assessment.
This chapter discusses the laws that regulate:
These three activities can have major impacts on the natural environment,
on private landowners and on local residents.
Mineral Resources Tasmania also administers the Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act. Titles granted by the Minister under this Act include exploration permits, retention leases, production licences and pipeline licences.
Local councils generally assess and regulate smaller ('Level 1’) mining operations, such as council quarries. However, if the operation produces a significant volume of material (more than 5,000 m3 per year), or is otherwise likely to cause environmental harm, the EPA Division will undertake the environmental assessment and regulate the operation.
Rock, stone, sand , gravel and clay used for construction and bricks are owned by the landowner of the property where they are found.
A person who wishes to ‘fossick’ (ie use hand tools) needs only a prospectors’ licence. This licence does not allow the holder to prospect on private land, unless the landowner gives permission.
A person or company that wishes to use more comprehensive methods of exploration must obtain an exploration licence. This enables the holder to search for up to five years within a defined area specified by the licence. The licence area can include private land and Crown land.
Mineral exploration activities are not regulated by planning schemes (☛ go to Chapters 4 and 5, see section 20(7) of LUPAA). This often means that it is difficult for a landowner to prevent an exploration licence being issued over his or her land. However, s/he may be able to influence the conditions that apply to the licence.
Any person who owns, or has an interest in, any land that is subject to an application for an exploration licence is able to lodge an objection with Mineral Resources Tasmania. Objections are then heard by the Mining Tribunal.
☝ Objections must be lodged within 28 days of the licence application being advertised in a local newspaper.
The holder of an exploration licence is generally not required to obtain a planning or environment permit. This does not mean that mineral exploration is unregulated. The environment can be protected via the following mechanisms:
- Exploration activities are required to be approved under the Mineral Resources Development Act 1995.
- The explorer must obtain written permission from Mineral Resources Tasmania prior to undertaking any on ground exploration. Mineral Resources Tasmania liaises extensively with land managers such as Forestry Tasmania and the Parks and Wildlife Service. Prior to approving a works program for exploration, any potential for the work to affect threatened species, conservation and heritage values is considered - where necessary the program is modified or conditions are imposed to avoid or minimise negative impacts on these values.
- All exploration work must be carried out in accordance with the Mineral Exploration Code of Practice. The Code comprehensively describes what a licence holder can and cannot do.
Adherence to the Code is a licence condition - breaching this requirement may result in suspension or revocation of the licence.
If it appears that the Code has been breached, complaints may be made to Mineral Resources Tasmania or the EPA Division. If the Code has been breached, or if environmental harm occurs or is likely, an Environment Protection Notice may be served on the operation (☛ Go to Chapter 6 for details).
- A 'rehabilitation bond' must be lodged before a licence is granted. The bond can be compulsorily used to rehabilitate exploration works if the company responsible for those works fails to do the required rehabilitation.
- A mining lease gives the holder the right to carry out mining operations (access, excavation and treatment) within the confines of the mining lease, subject to conditions set out in the lease.
- A mining lease is rarely granted for more than 21 years. Most leases are issued for a 5-10 year term.
- The lease area should be limited to the minimum land area required for the efficient operation of the proposed mining operation, including supporting infrastructure such as tailings dams. The area is likely to include both ‘measured’ and ‘inferred’ mineral resources.
- A mining lease may be granted only if the proponent demonstrates the existence of an economic mineral resource, intends to mine, has sufficient financial and technical resources for the operation, has assessed the potential environmental impact, has a compensation agreement with the landowner and has provided a rehabilitation bond.
- For small operations (annually less than 1,000 tonnes of mineral or 5,000 m3 for sand or stone) the operation is classified as a 'Level 1' operation and environmental approval is managed by the local council. You will need to check the relevant Planning Scheme to see whether a planning permit is required for the mining operation (☛ Go to Chapters 4 and 5).
- Larger scale (‘Level 2’) operations are approved and regulated by the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) (☛ Go to Chapter 5 for information about development controls). The developer must prepare an Environmental Effects Report (EER) or a Development Proposal and Environmental Management Plan (DPEMP) outlining the manner in which the operator will meet environmental standards.
- Mining is allowed within most reserve classifications under the Nature Conservation Act 2002, subject to any restrictions outlined in the management plan for the reserve. Management plans for national parks generally prohibit mining activities.
☛ Go to Chapter 7 for more information regarding management of reserves.
- If a proposed mine is likely to impact on a matter of national environmental significance (such as a World Heritage Area, or habitat for a nationally listed threatened species), approval may also be required under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
☛ Go to Chapter 15 for more information about the EPBC Act.
Mining is the only industry where a private company can develop someone else's land without their consent.
However, a mining lease can only be granted when the applicant has entered into a compensation agreement with the landholder. This takes the form of a common law contract. Landowners have recourse to the Mining Tribunal to settle any dispute relating to the compensation agreement.
The holder of an exploration licence or mining lease cannot conduct any work within 100 metres of any substantial building or water body without the consent of the landowner. The owner must also be consulted prior to roading and construction activities taking place. Landowners have recourse to the Mining Tribunal if these restrictions are not complied with. Prior to any hearing, the Director of Mines must attempt to resolve the dispute.
Landholders cannot revoke their consent once it has been given in writing.
In past decades, many mine sites in Tasmania have been abandoned without adequate rehabilitation of the area taking place. Mineral Resources Tasmania currently manages the Rehabilitation of Mining Lands Trust Fund, which provides funds to rehabilitate Crown lands affected by former mining and exploration activities.
Funds from the Rehabilitation Trust are used to address safety hazards (for example, covering abandoned mine shafts), remediate contamination, conduct revegetation works and weed control.
To reduce the rehabilitation burden on the government, mining operators must now provide a rehabilitation bond before any work can commence in a mining lease area. This is a back-stop measure, which ensures that some funds are available to cover the costs of rehabilitation in the event that an operator fails to comply with environmental and rehabilitation requirements set out in their lease conditions.
Mining lease applications are not publicly advertised, though landowners will be notified.
Only those who can claim a right to, or interest in, all or part of the land comprised in any application for a lease are able to object to the granting of a mining lease. For example, land owners are recognised as having an interest.
In the case of Stow v Mineral Holdings, a conservation group was not able to object to mining activities because they did not have an “estate or interest in the land” (ie they had no private interest or right in the land). The court found that, even though the group was interested in the protection of the area, their interest was a public one, rather than a private interest.
Therefore, in order to object to a mining lease, you must demonstrate that you have a greater claim to the land than other members of the public (such as owning affected land or holding a lease or licence over the land). This is a considerable hurdle to overcome.
Objections to leases must be sent to the Registrar of Mines and will be heard by the Mining Tribunal.
☝ Objections must be made within 28 days of the mining lease being “marked out” on the land.
A mining operation generally requires a mining lease, environmental approvals under the Environmental Management and Pollution Control Act 1994 and a planning permit (depending on the provisions of the relevant planning scheme). Where a planning permit and environmental approval is required, the application will be advertised, and public comments invited (☛ Go to Chapters 4 and 5 for more information about this process).
Quarrying involves the extraction of construction materials - such as rock, sand, and gravel, providing materials for road construction, concrete etc. for community use. There are many dozens of small quarrying operations around the state. Quarries that are close to settlements can create significant 'nuisance' problems in local neighbourhoods such as noise and dust.
Soil is not a mineral under the Mineral Resources Development Act 1995 and falls outside this legislation. However, Planning Schemes frequently provide for soil extraction as a 'use or development' that requires a permit.
- Most quarries are 'Level 1' activities that require only local government approval (annually less than 1,000 tonnes of mineral or 5,000 m3 for sand or stone). This is to ensure that the operation complies with the planning scheme for the locality. The land may need to be rezoned to accommodate a new quarry (☛ see Chapter 5).
- As with mines, operators of quarries must hold a mining lease to extract stone or other materials from either Crown land or private land. However, a mining lease is not required for quarries on private land where the sand, gravel or stone extracted is only used by the landowner or sold at a rate of less than 100 tonnes each year.
- The Quarry Code of Practice comprehensively describes how an operator should conduct operations – it defines good quarrying practice and provides the assessment standard for quarrying operations and applications. The operator’s permit conditions often include a requirement to comply with the Code.
Local councils operate many quarries for public purposes, and councils themselves are required to comply with mining, planning and environmental legislation. Because councils are also the managing authorities for their own quarries it can sometimes be more difficult to ensure that they comply with proper processes.
|If you have a concern, it will be useful to obtain a copy of:|
- the exploration licence or mining lease for the particular operation
- any environmental permits issued by the council and/or the EPA Division
⇔ You can do a search to find out the details of the relevant mining lease / exploration licence (such as lease number and expiry date) using the TIGER database on the MRT website.
|If you believe conditions attached to a permit or lease are being breached or a code of practice
is being breached or if you believe the environment is being harmed, then you should:
- immediately contact the mine or quarry operator and request that they take action to fix the situation
- report it to the local council and/or the state pollution hotline (Ph: 1800 005 171)
- contact the Minister for Mines (by phone or email) to complain.
☛ Go to Chapter 13 for general information about taking action.
|If you are suffering from nuisance, or if you believe the operations are causing environmental harm|
- you may be able to take action in the court or the Tribunal to prevent breaches of a lease or permit.
☛ Go to Chapter 6)
|Your right to information|
- If you have any concerns about what is happening at a mining / exploration site, you should request a copy of the lease, licence or environmental authority.
If you are not given a copy of the documents (including maps etc) in the first instance, you can make an application for 'assessed disclosure' under the Right to Information Act 2009. You should clearly outline what information you are after, and argue that it is in the public interest to make the information available.
- TIGER (Tasmanian Information on Geoscience and Exploration Resources) is an information base for Tasmania's geological and mineral exploration. It includes maps and information on geology, groundwater, tenements and deposits.
- The EPA Division produces a range of brochures that describe Tasmania's environmental control system – available from Service Tasmania centres or at www.environment.tas.gov.au.
- Service Tasmania Centres: Ph 1300 135 513
134 Macquarie, Hobart
GPO Box 44A Hobart 7001
Ph: 03 6233 8011
1 Civic Square, Launceston 7250
Ph: 03 6336 2236
- Environment Tasmania:
100 Elizabeth St, Hobart 7000
Ph: 03 6223 6319
You can download the above Acts from: Tas Government