(c) Samantha Hawker

This week the Government signalled that it will continue trying to dismantle the laws that protect our communities, land, environment, and climate from mining. It’s clear that we need to keep fighting to ensure our Government holds mining companies accountable – here’s why this is so important, and how you can take action.

On Monday the Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, announced a 12-month Productivity Commission review into “streamlining regulation in the resources sector”. This review has been spruiked by the federal Resources Minister, Matt Canavan, and its intent is to weaken existing laws and regulations for our mining and energy companies.

This continues an ongoing attack on the regulation of mining and energy in Australia since the Abbott government was formed in 2013. At that time they delighted in calling it “green tape.” The term backfired, with the public making it clear that they do not agree with the extreme political agenda of giving the resources sector free rein in Australia.

But although the Government may no longer be talking about “cutting green tape,” make no mistake – that is the goal of the inquiry they announced on Monday. And this is a dangerous agenda that we must fight.

The resources sector in Australia relies on access to public assets like land and water. In order to access these resources, they pay royalties and need to pass some environmental and social requirements. The sector also can cause harm – including the carbon pollution from coal, oil and gas mining that is driving the climate crisis.

For many of us, the existing requirements are grossly inadequate and continuously fail us all.

Just ask the miners in Queensland who are suffering from “black lung”, or the workers at the failed Linc Energy “Underground Coal Gasification” plant in Chinchilla. Or ask the residents in Booraloola who can no longer fish anywhere near the Macarthur River Mine which is leaching toxins into the water table, or the Queenstown copper mine which is closed down after three deaths in 2014 but still discharging acid into the local river.

We live in a country with over 50,000 unremediated mine sites causing massive damage to the local communities.

“Green tape” is what is required to protect us from the negative impacts of mining and energy projects. And it urgently needs to be improved.

As a result of the last major attack on the already inadequate “green tape” we have in this country, an alliance of organisations and experts worked together to develop a vision of what adequate laws and regulations for the mining industry would look like.
The Australian Panel of Experts on Environmental Law and the Places You Love alliance developed a framework that takes us to the next generation of environmental laws. This framework explored ways to ensure that companies or government agencies that want to exploit our natural assets would be accountable to the community and to the environment.

The Productivity Commission should be looking at improving regulation in the resources sector, not “streamlining” it. In some cases, this will require resources companies to improve their standards – and so they should. They have a responsibility to the broader community. And critically, this must take into account the carbon pollution caused by coal, oil and gas extraction.

All of us should do everything we can to ensure this Productivity Commission process is not confined to impacts on “business investment”, but rather the impacts of the resources sector on Australians.

Take action – write to Commissioner Lisa Gropp and demand this review focus on improving the laws and regulations for the mining industry, not dismantling them: resources@pc.gov.au