Beaconsfield: another mine, another taxpayer hit

by | Oct 24, 2016 | Government, Resources

The bankers, the miners, their consultants and assorted hangers-on have taken their millions in bonuses, profits, fees and commissions and moved on and, once again, taxpayers will pick up the chit.

This time, it’s the controversial Beaconsfield gold mine in Tasmania which collapsed on Anzac Day 2005, killing miner Larry Knight and trapping Todd Russell and Brant Webb under a pile of rubble nearly one kilometre beneath the surface.

After a flood in June, cracks were found in the mine yard and bits of the concrete yard have since collapsed by more than a metre. The earth below is unstable and somebody has to come up with the money to fix the thing.

What better somebody than taxpayers from the rest of the country, somebodies who had nothing to do with it?

The state government of Tasmania is in discussions to access at $1.25 million from the National Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements (NDRAA) to fix the Beaconsfield mine shaft. That may be just the start.

Buried treasure and toxins at Beaconsfield

At least mine management didn’t run with its original plan to dump the 300,000 tonnes of tailings – mining leftovers thick with arsenic, cyanide and other toxins – straight back down the shaft of the underground mine itself.

They would have, but for a spot of media attention, the advice of some concerned technical people and a tip from a former mine executive of the joint venture. Typically feeble, the Tasmanian government and the relevant state environmental and mining agencies were going to let it pass.

At the time, BCD chief executive Peter Thompson, West Tamar mayor Barry Easther, Tasmania EPA and the state department, Mineral Resources Tasmania, all denied there was a risk of poisonous seepage into the water table as a result of the waste.

The plan was “world’s best practice”, said Thompson. EPA director Alex Schaap agreed with Thompson’s assessment and the company’s waste proposals.

Luckily this “world’s best practice” was not practised.

Tamar tailings take toxic twist

The tale of the Beaconsfield mine has been one of bitter controversy. Five months before the mine collapsed respected geotechnical specialist from AMC, Glen Sharrock, had recommended bolstering the ground-support mechanisms in the mine.

There had been a ”strong concentration of large seismic events”, Sharrock said. ”Based on AMC’s understanding of seismicity at Beaconsfield, the potential exists for further large and damaging seismic events. The mine ground control management plan should address the depth of failure issue and install cable bolts with appropriate surface support where required.”

Cable bolts were not installed. The mine collapsed six months later at level 925, where Sharrock had advocated the cable bolting. Later, at the inquest for the death of Knight, the coroner made no finding of negligence. Nobody took the rap.

Human tragedy, government negligence, financial intrigue (Macquarie Bank controlled the debt when the mine went into administration before it collapsed and made millions of dollars in profit) and now environmental problems and taxpayer demands.

It is a timely reminder that mining companies ought to properly fund rehabilitation and the authorities should properly do their jobs.

Wait till the big coal mines start closing, then the serious hit to taxpayers will come.


Michael West

Michael West

Michael West established to focus on journalism of high public interest, particularly the rising power of corporations over democracy. Formerly a journalist and editor at Fairfax newspapers and a columnist at News Corp, West was appointed Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Sydney’s School of Social and Political Sciences.

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