The McArthur River Mine (MRM) is situated in the remote Gulf of Carpentaria, 970 km southeast of Darwin. MRM has been producing and processing zinc, lead and silver for export since 1995. The appointment of an Independent Monitor (IM) was a condition of the approval for the transition to open cut pit mining in 2006. The IM provides independent oversight of the environmental performance of the mine Operator, and the performance of the Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism (DITT; formally the Department of Mines and Energy and the Department of Primary Industry and Resources) as the environmental Mining Regulator. This oversight was a commitment made by the Northern Territory Government to address community concerns around future mine impacts.
Annual assessment reports from the IM, who is appointed for a 5-year term, address the operation of the mine over the previous year. The reports consider any environmental assessments and monitoring activities undertaken by the Operator, and document environmental performance, identify issues requiring urgent attention, and provide recommendations to address environmental risks. The lack of timely action on urgent issues raised by the IM has resulted in long-term and unacceptable impacts to the community and environment. By reviewing all the IM audit reports, it is apparent that inefficiencies and flaws in the regulatory process decrease the effectiveness of the IM audits as a tool to facilitate better environmental management.
This report shows that regulatory action is lagging – in many cases by years - behind the disclosure of significant environmental risks by the IM. Three specific examples of water-related that are outlines illustrate how the IM reports have been ineffective to protect the environment and community concerns as intended.