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Tuesday, 31 May 1994
Page: 983

(Question No. 1245)


Senator Margetts asked the Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories, upon notice, on 22 March 1994:

  (1) Did the Minister receive a letter from the Friends of the Earth (FOE) dated 16 February 1994, with an accompanying press release dated 17 February 1994, in which that organisation claims that it warned of inadequacies in the tailings management system at Roxby Downs as long ago as September 1982, when the draft environment impact statement for the project was produced.

  (2) Did the Commonwealth Department of Home Affairs and Environment express reservations about the tailings system at Roxby Downs at the same time.

  (3) Were the concerns raised by the FOE and the Department of Home Affairs and Environment taken seriously at that time and was any action taken in respect of them.

  (4) (a) Has the Minister or the department seen a report made by the Roxby Downs Joint Venturers in 1990 to the South Australian State Government under the provisions of the Roxby Downs Indenture, according to which there were anomalies in water-levels at monitoring wells near the tailings dam at that time; and (b) does this mean that leakage has been in fact taking place since before 1990.

  (5) Does the Minister consider that the system of sub-aerial deposition of tailings is adequate in view of the possibility that it may have been leaking from the very beginning.

  (6) Will the Minister consider revising environmental standards to require the joint venturers to adopt an alternative or modified method of tailings disposal.


Senator Faulkner —The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

  (1) I have received a number of letters and copies of letters to my predecessors from the Friends of the Earth, including to the letter addressed to Minister Kelly dated 16 February 1994 and the accompanying press release. In response I met with Friends of the Earth Sydney on 16 May 1994.

  (2) During examination of the final Environment Impact Statement in May 1983 a number of areas of concern were identified in the Environmental Assessment Report prepared by the Department of Home Affairs and Environment, including the possibility and effects of seepage from the tailings retention system.

  (3) The conditions placed on the development of the mine and its ongoing management were the responsibility of the South Australian Government under the Roxby Downs (Indenture Ratification) Act 1982.

  (4) (a) Yes. The Department has received the Olympic Dam Operations—Environmental Management Programme Annual Report—01/03/89 to 28/02/90 dated March 1990.

  (b) The Report indicated that except for some anomalous readings, a lowering of water levels from the mine to the outside peripheral bores was observed during the year. The anomalous readings included bores north and southeast of the tailings retention system. The report states that heavy rainfall in March 1989 caused the water level in many of the observation bores, especially the peripheral bores, to rise as compared to levels recorded in April 1989.

  (5) The design and operation of the tailings retention system at Olympic Dam mine has clearly been inadequate. On 15 February 1994 the previous Minister wrote to the South Australian Minister for Mines and Energy requesting a full report on the problem of water seepage from the tailings retention system and how it was being addressed. On 16 March 1994 the previous Minister invited the South Australian Minister for Mines and Energy to report on matters not addressed in the previous report he had provided. On 3 May the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy and I wrote again to the South Australian Minister welcoming the advice he had given to Senator Collins that we would be provided with a full report by the South Australian Government within two weeks. Further information has not yet been received.

  (6) The responsibility for environmental standards and supervision of the mine rests with the South Australian Government under the Roxby Downs (Indenture Ratification) Act 1982. I will give consideration to the issue of environmental standards after Senator Collins and I consider the new report to be supplied by the South Australian Minister for Mines Energy.