Lock the Gate Alliance has warned that a recently announced federal government review of current mining assessment regulation will further reduce regional communities’ ability to fight inappropriate and unwanted resource exploitation.
Federal resources minister Matt Canavan announced at the NSW Minerals Council conference on August 5 that the government had asked the Productivity Commission to hold a 12-month review into what he thinks is the over-regulation of the resources sector.
He said there had been “far too many delays” in the approval of mining projects, singling out Adani’s contested Carmichael coal mine in the Galilee Basin as an example.
He added that there were plenty more low-key projects, such as the Narrabri gas project in NSW, which have been affected by what he described as “the hidden costs of delays”.
The Productivity Commission’s review will look at ways to reduce “unnecessary costs for business while maintaining sound oversight”. It will also examine community engagement practices, including land access.
Alongside this, a separate deregulation taskforce report and a review of national environment legislation are due in October.
A review of mining assessment processes is sorely needed, Naomi Hogan from Lock the Gate Alliance said, but it should “focus on supporting the rights of communities and landholders, not those of big mining companies as the government’s plan appears designed to do.
“There are far too few checks and balances in the planning system to ensure that water resources, social cohesion and public health are not compromised by resource projects.
“We need a review, alright, and it needs to give people the ability to safeguard land, water, and communities from degradation by mining.
“The system we’ve got isn’t even close to being strong enough, and any attempt to weaken it further will cause lasting damage to regional communities.”
Greenpeace chief executive David Ritter echoed the concern. He said Australia’s approvals system already favours mining companies over communities.
“Major coal mining projects, like Adani, suck up precious groundwater resources in a country baked dry by climate change,” he said. “This is sheer insanity, as coal is the number one driver of climate change.”
“We are in the thick of the climate emergency, and this is a time that the federal government should be strengthening environmental protections, rather than tearing them down.”
An August 7 report by the Climate Council of Australia said Queensland has more than 5000 jobs in the renewable sector, more than any other state or territory.
Projects under construction, or about to begin, will create another 4500 jobs in the state and deliver almost $10 billion in investment.
In dozens of Queensland suburbs and towns, more than 50% of households have solar installations.
The report also found that Queensland is the state most vulnerable to climate change and is paying a price for worsening extreme weather events. Queensland has borne 60% of the total economic costs of extreme weather in Australia in the decade from 2007 to 2016.
As the government moves to fast track the coal and gas mining corporations’ agenda, the coal lobby is also launching a public relations campaign.
Review Economy reported on August 7 that leaked documents published by the ABC showed up to $5 million will go to an advertising campaign, run by Coal21, with the goal to make Australians feel “proud” about coal and “rebutting false campaigns by activist groups”.
Coal21 is funded by the coal industry. It is supposed to support the development of carbon capture and storage and, in this guise, has won financial favours from at least the NSW and Queensland governments, which allow companies to claim funds channelled to it as a deduction against coal royalties payable.
These latest revelations are further examples of how state government taxes are being redirected to funding promotional activities for the coal sector.
Previous public relations campaigns run by Coal21 included advocating for new coal-fired power stations ahead of the 2016 federal election.
[Margaret Gleeson is an anti-coal activist living on the NSW Central Coast and a member of the Socialist Alliance.]