Tasmania’s Rosebery mine has been operating since the 1930s, but needs to build a new tailings dam in order to survive past 2024.
- Rosebery Mine proposes to build a new tailings dam inside the Tarkine, a temperate rainforest of heritage significance
- The federal environment department is set to decide on the next steps for the proposal next month
- The dam would have a footprint of 285 hectares and a lifespan of up to 42 years
The mine’s closure would have ramifications across the state, but operator MMG is facing significant opposition from protesters who are concerned about the dam’s proposed location inside takayna/Tarkine rainforest — an area the Australian Heritage Council says should be protected.
As Hobart farmer and businessman Anthony Houston walked into the Tarkine with two others last week, he knew he would be arrested and removed within hours.
Mr Houston had volunteered to prevent workers accessing the site of MMG’s proposed new tailings dam inside the Tarkine — a vast temperate rainforest of outstanding national heritage significance.
About 100 metres along the prohibited road, Mr Houston set up his camp chair to wait for the trucks, and later, the police.
One of 30 Bob Brown Foundation protesters arrested in a month, Mr Houston said he was motivated to protest because of the deforestation the project would cause, as well as the chemicals it would introduce to the forest.
“The most important thing is to keep what we’ve already got, the Tarkine is something really special.”
Closing the mine to result in job losses
The Rosebery mine has been producing zinc, copper and lead concentrates for 85 years, as well as gold dore.
Its two existing tailings dams will be at capacity within three years, and without another opening up, the MMG-owned mine will close, putting hundreds of jobs on the line.
It’s proposing to build a third dam inside the Tarkine with a footprint of 285 hectares and a lifespan of up to 42 years.
“If we don’t have a tailings dam and nowhere to put our waste by the end of 2024, that’s when we’ll have to go into closure,” Rosebery mine acting general manager Steve Scott said.
The proposed site is on MMG’s existing mining lease, about one kilometre west of Rosebery.
“It’s the most viable option, and that area’s been earmarked for a tailings dam for quite a number of years,” Mr Scott said.
The dam has plenty of support from within the Rosebery community.
One local, Jenelle Carey, said there was a need for environmental sustainability, but the mine was essential.
“The mine certainly has a lot more regulations and restrictions they have to adhere to, to make it sustainable,” she said.
Mine worth ‘hundreds of millions of dollars’ to the economy
According to Tasmania’s Minerals, Manufacturing and Energy Council, the flow-on effects of a mine closure would be significant.
“It would certainly take many hundreds of millions of dollars out of the Tasmanian economy,” chief executive Ray Mostogl said.
All of Rosebery mine’s zinc is provided to Hobart’s Nyrstar zinc smelter, and Mr Mostogl said a Rosebery closure would significantly disrupt the Hobart operations.
The Australian Heritage Council has found the Tarkine was of outstanding national heritage significance, but in 2013 the federal Labor government declined to give it a national heritage listing, other than a small coastal portion for its Aboriginal heritage values.
Conservationists have continued pushing for it to be designated a national park, and for the area to be world-heritage listed.
Scott Jordan from the Bob Brown Foundation said the failure to list the area had left it open to being “plundered”.
“This is an area of outstanding wilderness value, it’s an area that is old, mature myrtle rainforest, it’s part of Australia’s largest remaining temperate rainforest, and one of the last remaining in the world,” he said.
“We don’t care if it’s a tailings dam or a logging operation, if it’s going to destroy this area we’re going to stand against it.”
Environmental activist Anna Brozek has just returned from a tree-sit at the proposed dam site.
She said there was no room for compromise.
“It’s a lot of mixed feelings when you’re in there because it’s such a beautiful experience being surrounded by all this life, and at the same time heartbreaking, because we know what these people want to do to that place,” she said.
The dam still needs a green light under federal environment laws, as well as local planning approvals.
The timeframe for a federal decision on the next steps has been pushed back, with the Environment Department now due to decide whether the action needs to go through a full assessment under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act by July 23.