More and Better Mine Rehabilitation: Combatting inertia and enabling innovation in Queensland Strip mining

In Queensland, the resources sector is required to undertake progressive rehabilitation of mined lands as land becomes “available”. Strip mining operations, especially open cut coal mining, lends itself to progressive rehabilitation as the mine face moves across the landscape. However, the area of disturbance (i.e. not yet rehabilitated) has grown significantly and the rate of rehabilitation commensurately diminished. The estimated rehabilitation cost for the entire industry has grown from AUD$800M in 1994 to AUD$2B in 2022, an 87% increase in real terms. Additionally, the concept of mine ‘closure’ is challenged. Few complex mines in Queensland have been closed (i.e. their authorities relinquished to the state) save those that have been abandoned or the state has assumed liability of its own volition.

So what is stopping mining companies from doing more and better progressive rehabilitation, and what needs to happen to move spent mines onto their post-mining land use? The widely disparate views of stakeholders, technical, socio-economic, and geopolitical factors, all contribute to the complexity of the ‘problem’ of progressive mine rehabilitation and mine closure to sustain a post-mining land use. The issue is explored through the lens of a ‘wicked’ public policy problem. Identification of barriers to more and better mine rehabilitation are explored, and mechanisms to address the state’s exposure to future risk proposed.

Biography

James is the Queensland Mine Rehabilitation Commissioner. He has held numerous Director-General roles in Queensland including the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy. He has worked in the private sector as an environmental scientist and senior manager. He is a Fellow of the Australia and New Zealand School of Government, a Fellow of the Institute of Public Administration Australia and a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

Industry

In his private sector career, James was General Manager Sustainability for an ASX-listed Energy company, Managing Director of a mine rehabilitation and environmental management company, and Director of an Australian subsidiary of an environmental consulting firm.

Supervisor

Professor Neville Plint