The current debate about ‘streamlining’ or ‘fast-tracking’ mining approvals must not lose sight of the protections the community and environment deserves.
Transparency International Australia’s research into the mining approvals process in Queensland found room for improvement – improvements that help streamline the process, safeguard the environment and enable better community involvement.
Our research found certain corruption risks create the potential for significant adverse environmental and social impacts, particularly:
- Limited verification of the accuracy of environmental impact statements (EIS);
- Lack of transparent and accessible information for the public;
- Poor due diligence on a mining applicant’s past conduct; and
- Exercising discretionary powers by the Coordinator General.
By establishing a fair, transparent and accountable process from the start, we can ensure a clear and coherent process for everyone to follow. This would ensure the environment is better protected; business integrity is strengthened, and save time by averting drawn-out court cases.
We can improve this process with:
- Independent verification of environmental impact statements;
- A robust due diligence process that can eliminate the risk of poor conduct before ground is even broken;
- Transparent and accessible information so the public has a real opportunity to comment and, if necessary, object, to a development; and
- Oversight of the use of discretionary powers by the Coordinator General.
A key problem with the EIS process is that mining companies’ assessments are not adequately checked. Too often, local communities are left with no choice but to advocate themselves for the sake of their own air, water and health – a difficult, expensive and time-consuming process.
Secondly, poor due diligence means companies with a history of unlawful activity or non-compliance can get the right to mine. A company with a poor track record carries a higher risk of causing social and environmental damage. We need a more robust process that includes an assessment of beneficial ownership and corporate character.
Complex data and very long and detailed EIS make it hard for the public to comment or object. Lack of independent verification of modelling systems, theories and data mean that companies can shape EIS to suit their needs. Together this means there is little public trust in the process. This creates a corruption risk because mining companies could present data that minimises adverse impacts and improves the likelihood of expedited approvals.
And finally, the discretionary powers of the Coordinator General in Queensland must be reviewed to ensure these powers are not being used to favour special interest groups which further undermines the publics trust of the approvals processes.
There is always room for improvement and greater efficiencies– but it must not come at the expense of the Australian community’s high expectations for integrity. We can have a clear and more coherent process and a robust process that that prevents corruption.