In February, with Hazelwood mine fire blazing, I stood in the backyard of a resident who lives on the Morwell street closest to the mine.
In February this year, when the Hazelwood mine fire was blazing, I stood in the backyard of a resident who lives on the street in Morwell closest to the Hazelwood mine. The air was thick with smoke, making it difficult to breath. We could see ash settling on our clothes as we spoke. I realised that until this point, I had been unable to imagine how truly awful living with the mine fire was for the residents of Morwell.
Shortly after that day, Environmental Justice Australia called for an Inquiry in the mine fire. We then appeared at the Inquiry itself, acting as the lawyers for Environment Victoria.
On 2 September 2014, the Board of Inquiry that investigated the Hazelwood mine fire handed down its report.
The report made many important findings. Its key finding was that the fire was foreseeable and that both the government agencies that regulate the mine and the mine owner, GDF Suez, could have prevented the fire occurring in the first place.
Our advocacy at the Inquiry itself was the basis for several of the Inquiry’s important conclusions, including that the regulators were too passive in their approach, and did not appropriately regulate all the risks of mining. This lead to the Inquiry Board recommending that the Mineral Resources (Sustainable Development) Act be amended and that the regulators acquire the necessary expertise to regulate fire risk in the mines.
Another important finding made by the report was that no laws had been breached by the mine. This finding shows that under Victoria’s mining and environmental laws, it is perfectly legal to maintain a mine in such a way that doesn’t ensure that all reasonable risks to the community are properly managed.
This shows that Victoria’s laws need a major overhaul, to better protect communities and the environment. It also shows that the mine regulator, the Department of State Development, Business and Innovation, needs to change its attitude and approach to mine regulation and ensure it is regulating with the interests and safety of the community firmly in mind.
Following on from the Inquiry, Environmental Justice Australia has formulated a series of reforms that will better protect communities and from the impacts if mining, that we will work to see made as soon as possible:
Air pollution: The PM 2.5 standard must be implemented as soon as possible.
Work plans: Improve mining laws so that work plans, the documents that define what a mine must do, have meaningful and enforceable standards that actually protect the environment and communities
Improved regulation on rehabilitation: more transparent and better methodology for calculating bonds, more prescriptive approach to what is required in terms of 'progressive rehabilitation'
Government action: The Department of State Development, Business and Innovation, who regulate mines, needs to commit to taking steps to better monitor and enforce mining activities so that communities are better protected from the impacts of mining.
Health Conservation Zone: We echo the Inquiry's support of the Latrobe Valley being made 'Health Conservation Zone', and for there to be an independent health advocate for the Valley appointed immediately.
Check out these must-read articles on the Hazelwood Fire Inquiry: