An official investigation into a mine explosion nearly three years ago still has not been released as the deadline for any possible prosecution over the incidents looms.
Mine safety advocates have criticised the delay by Resources Safety and Health Queensland in releasing the results of the investigation, saying any chance of prosecution from the findings will end later this month.
The fire broke out at North Goonyella underground coking coalmine, owned by US giant Peabody, in 2018 but was allegedly downplayed by the company.
The once-profitable mine has been in “care and maintenance” mode since and some sections have been permanently sealed.
Under the Coal Mining Act, any prosecution relating to an incident must be launched within three years of the event.
Mining safety advocate Stuart Vaccaneo, a former union safety inspector, said the state government needed to lift a “veil of secrecy” that had shielded results of the investigation from the public.
“Whenever I’ve contacted (RSHQ) I’ve been told they can’t comment because of possible compliance action,” Mr Vaccaneo said. “The problem they’ve got is the time frame for prosecution is winding up.”
Mr Vaccaneo said the public needed to know whether mismanagement contributed to the incident and how similar incidents could be avoided.
RSHQ has defended the delay, saying it was limited in its ability to comment publicly because it could “prejudice any potential proceedings”.
“The Queensland Mines Inspectorate has completed its investigation of the underground fire that occurred at North Goonyella mine in 2018 and Resources Safety and Health Queensland has commenced an enforcement process in respect of persons who held statutory positions at the mine at the time,” an RSHQ spokesman said. It is unknown whether the “enforcement process” constituted prosecution.
A Peabody spokeswoman declined to comment on any active investigations.
Queensland Resources Minister Scott Stewart said that, as an independent statutory body, the release of the report was a matter for RSHQ. “It is their job to investigate all serious incidents at any mine site and if appropriate provide information to the Office of the Work Health and Safety Prosecutor, who is responsible for launching any prosecution.”
Opposition MP Dale Last, whose electorate includes the mine site, said the report needed to be released publicly before the time for legal action expired.
“The delays in releasing the report mean safety issues that may be highlighted … haven’t been addressed and it also means we are quickly approaching the point where legal action … will be impossible,” Mr Last said. “There is no point in the Act having provisions for prosecutions when delays mean those prosecutions aren’t possible. If there has been breaches of safety laws … someone needs to be held to account.”