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Mining Contamination of Producer Water Supplies

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If you are producer and nasties from a mining holding pond actually seeps into a freshwater aquifer and the traces of things like uranium, arsenic, lead and other contaminants turn up as  residues in beef that you have sold then you are most likely in trouble for the simple reason you have signed an NVD.

My understanding was an aquifer can extend for many kilometres and the people some miles away have an agreement with the mining company to actually use their land. These people may have signed agreements with the mining company over nasties found in water.  Does this cover neighbours?  

So how would you stand if residue testing finds contaminants in your beef? Who would be liable, the mining company or you? In order to find an answer to this question MLA funded a project for the Cattle Council of Australia and lot feeders Australia which was completed in March 2013. The MLA engaged a legal firm to provide advice on who would be liable for any contaminants being found in cattle and of course the liabilities of producers when completing an NVD. At the time the views expressed that this was a serious concern for beef producers and it was hoped that the project would provide a resolution. However the legal firm contracted to do this work, which was funded by MLA producers’ money, upon completion the report stated that it should not be released.

I have little understanding of the law; however when one is contracted to do a report I find it rather strange that the firm can then say this is not for public release whilst accepting payment for that report. Cattle Council said the information in the report was legally sensitive due to the fact that it advises liability therefore the report itself should not be released.

Surely at the time the idea behind this report was to advise liability and the report would of course be legally sensitive.  This is the whole point behind who is responsible; the producer or the mining company.  This seems ridiculous since producers’ funds actually paid for this report. Going further the firm undertaking the report was not prepared to release the contents due to legal professional privilege. How much of levy payers funds went into drawing up this legal opinion that cannot be released?

Cattle Council of Australia seems to suggest that the producers may be liable if contamination occurs in their cattle. It seems to me that producers are sitting on a time bomb and is only a matter of time before we have a real problem.  It has been suggested that landowners may have some recourse against the mine operator but the landowner may still have primary liability.

Other sources suggest that producers should get their own legal advice if mining is taking place on their places. What about the person that has never had a mining company coming onto their place and finds that mining operations some distance away have contaminated their aquifer?

It is for that reason they were unable to release the legal report and MLA encourage you to seek your own legal advice as to your own circumstances.

To me this is a ridiculous situation where as we pay a $5 levy every time we sell a beast and this contributes $62 million towards MLA coffers.  Not an insignificant amount of money in anybody’s language. For the MLA to treat this matter with such disdain really must cause concern amongst levy payers. The simple fact is the producer finding that they have problems with residues coming from a water aquifer that has been contaminated by mining then that producer could find himself in court against multinational companies that have huge legal departments that can stretch court cases out which would make it impossible for even the most well-heeled producers to get legal redress on a problem of contamination. Surely the time has come for the cattle Council and others to stand up and look after producers’ interests in something that could cost the whole industry so much. One problem with residues is the potential to bring Aust beef reputation as a clean supplier to its knees.

The answer may be to actually push government to make legislation so that if miners are responsible for contaminating water sources they are liable so that producers are protected by government legislation.


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