By Kathryn Thorburn
A MINE Management Act being developed in the Northern Territory
reflects the trend across Australia to deregulate environmental
performance monitoring in the mining industry. Both government and
industry now see self-regulation as more efficient and more likely
to encourage industry best practice.
According to Tony McGill, Director of the Department of Mines and
Energy NT, regulations remain static and the aim is ongoing
improvement in environmental performance.
The NT Department of Mines and Energy remains responsible for
overseeing mine performance and ensuring that this is in line with
community expectations. To this end mines departments traditionally
have employed a ‘command and control’ approach to
regulation of mine impacts.
The new Act however will advance the concept of ‘Duty of
Care’ and of accountability on the part of managers,
employees and service providers. Companies will be required to work
to environmental management plans approved by government, as well
as more general guidelines and standards.
Regulation remains in the form of Acts such as the Waste Management
and Pollution Control, Water, and Environmental Assessment, all of
which prescribe safe maximum levels of pollution or environmental
impact. Breaches of these Acts can result in large fines. In
addition, an environmental performance bond is collected from the
operator before the license is issued. These encourage proper mine
‘close out’ or rehabilitation and act as insurance
should the company renege on its responsibilities agreed to at the
An NT Department of Mines and Energy initiative to audit
mines’ performances yearly against an agreed upon Environment
and Mining Plan was a precursor to the change to a performance
monitoring approach. Many NT mining companies have now started
contracting independent audits of environmental performance.
In response to market pressures, many in the industry are also
voluntarily adopting codes of practice such as the Australian
Minerals Code for Environmental Management, or seeking
accreditation under various environmental standards. As one of the
most publicly scrutinised industries around, a good environmental
image can give companies a competitive edge in the market place.