If mining conflicts suppress the right of public participation, then can mining be sustainable?

Judith Preston

Abstract


Mining of natural resources has surpassed agriculture as the basis for Australia’s economy; but at what cost? It is essential to Australia’s economic health to have access to a continuing income stream from a number of sources including minerals. However, there is a presumption – in both the political and resources sectors – that mining interests should trump all other interests, including social and environmental ones. A number of recent conflicts involving major mining projects in Australia and overseas have highlighted the fallacy of the claimed economic and social benefits, as well as the dangers to the community, the legal profession and the judiciary of suppressing public participation in the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process.

Any actions by the executive to exclude public participation in reviewing documentation related to resource management and extractive developments by legislative or policy changes such as the proposed new planning legislation in NSW and the new mining State Environmental Planning Policy (Mining Petroleum, Production and Extractive Industries) Amendment (Resource Significance) 2013 (Amended Mining SEPP), are retrogressive steps. The argument in this paper is that, due to the often negative and large-scale impacts that mineral extraction developments may have on the community and the environment, mineral extraction developments should be subject to a rigorous EIA processes which incorporate effective and inclusive rights of public participation, especially in relation to major projects. Such rights should be enshrined in environmental legislation in the objects clause, standing for merit and judicial review provisions, and there should be a duty for the decision-makers to properly consider public submissions. Such provisions may lead to revision of the development or its outright rejection. Furthermore, innovative policies, programmes and legislative reform should be drafted to protect public participation and the right to oppose inappropriate developments.


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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5130/ijrlp.i1.2014.3849

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