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State looking to dodge potential bill as Palmer shuts nickel refinery to July

A nickel ore ship at Townsville, where (inset) Clive Palmer's Yabulu refinery processes it. Photo: Chris Mackey / Southern Cross Maritime. (Inset: Creative Commons / Benjamin J Macdonald)

The Palaszczuk Government has rushed legislation into State Parliament to protect it from the potential of a multimillion-dollar bill in the case of a permanent shutdown at Clive Palmer’s Yabulu nickel refinery.

Queensland environment minister Steven Miles on Tuesday introduced the Environmental Protection (Chain of Responsibility) Amendment Bill, aimed at bolstering the environmental responsibility held by collapsed businesses over the environmental clean-up  of their operations.

After he set up a new management company to take over operations at the Yabulu refinery last week, Palmer said on Monday that he would have to close operations until July 31, while his new company waited for relevant government approvals, and more nickel ore.

Add to that the creditors of Yabulu’s previous management company – Palmer’s failed Queensland Nickel – who are still looking for the money they’re owed, and the future of the refinery is far from secure.

Minister Miles says he’s concerned taxpayers might be lumped with hefty environmental clean-up bills should sites like Yabulu shut down entirely.

“In the past 12 months, the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection has faced increasing difficulties in ensuring that sites operated by companies in financial difficulty continue to comply with their environmental obligations,” Miles said.

“This has included sites such as the Yabulu Nickel Refinery, Texas Silver Mine, Collingwood Tin Mine and Mount Chalmers Gold Mine.

“Urgent amendments are required to ensure the Department … can effectively impose a chain of responsibility, so that these companies and their related parties bear the cost of managing and rehabilitating sites.”

Miles said Queenslanders have grown “well and truly sick” of “high-flying businessmen who think they can avoid doing the right thing by ordinary working people, the community and the environment”.

“In my environmental portfolio, there have been too many occasions where companies have closed their doors, and what’s been revealed is that there is no money, or not enough money left in the till to deal with the costly clean-up and rehabilitation of sites,” he continued.

“There are some businesses that don’t seem to have any clear plan for how they will meet their responsibilities. There are others that seem to think they can avoid doing the right thing if they hire a room full of high-priced lawyers to restructure their affairs to avoid meeting their proper responsibility.

“The Government won’t tolerate seeing a business deliberately isolating or deliberately holding back funds that should be made available to meet their obligations to the workers, or the community.”

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