There is little doubt that the mining industry enjoys a higher level of access and influence over government in Australia than the average citizen. It’s often difficult to measure exactly how far that influence extends, but at other times it becomes glaringly obvious.
A report released today by The Australia Institute and the Australian Conservation Foundation shows that the influence of the mining industry on government in Queensland is systematic and ongoing.
The report, ‘Greasing the Wheels: the systematic weaknesses that allow undue influence of mining companies on government, a Queensland case study’, provides six case studies of mining companies using political donations, high level political access, gifts and the ‘revolving door’ to influence legislation in their favour.
It shows that Beach Energy, Sibelco, Karreman, New Hope, Adani and Linc Energy have all received favourable treatment from government including retrospective mining project approvals, revocation of environmental protections and reversals of party mining policies.
These case-studies are just the tip of the iceberg. In recent days Linc Energy and QRC have provided fresh insights into a frightening trend.
Linc Energy donated $337,999 to the Queensland LNP since 2011 and Linc and other UCG companies enjoyed a high level of access to government ministers in this period. It is now claimed that Linc’s underground coal gasification (UCG) trials in Queensland may have damaged precious farmland, threatened the health of workers, and caused a giant environmental mess.
Last month a former Linc engineer claimed that the plant was built using ‘cheap, unsafe and illegal’ equipment. Underground coal gasification (UCG) has since been banned in Queensland, Linc is broke, and the debate now turns to who will pay to clean up the mess.
Linc began trialling underground coal gasification in 1999. Despite environmental and health concerns being voiced by the local community, Linc was allowed to continue their controversial trials – and the full consequences are only now starting to coming to light.
In 2013 the Newman Government commissioned a report from the Independent Scientific Panel (ISP) that found no environmental issues arising from UCG projects, and recommended that the trials continue. The Panel was led by Chris Moran, director of the Sustainable Minerals Institute which receives substantial funding from the mining industry.
The Linc project has allegedly polluted the air and water with toxic gas leaks, caused workers to complain of nausea and headaches, and damaged 320 square kilometres of prime agricultural land in the Darling Downs.
Recognising its unsafe nature, the Palaszczuk Government has since banned UCG in Queensland.
And as reported this week, the Queensland Resources Council were given access to make tracked changes of a draft mine rehabilitation legislation called the Chain of Responsibility legislation by Queensland MP Stephen Bennett before it was submitted to the Parliament’s agriculture and environment committee.
The Minister has since apologised – but these incidents should be a wake-up call for all Queenslanders.
The Chain of Responsibility legislation is an important step in making mining companies clean up their mess and pay the rehabilitation costs of their mining sites.
It is designed to give State government increased power to require companies and related parties to pay the clean-up costs of mining projects.
By allowing the Queensland Resource Council to make amendments to this vital safeguard, Stephen Bennett MP has done a disservice to his constituents and proper democratic process. It’s like asking the prisoner to write the rules for the jailhouse.
Handing the Queensland Resource Council this level of influence on this legislation could lead to mining proponents being able to dodge the responsibility for cleaning up mine sites – meaning these costs could ultimately be paid by the taxpayer.
The deeper failure in governance that allowed these two incidents to occur in the first place continues. These latest fiascos are not isolated incidents – they are part of a disturbing trend.
ACF believes that continued influence of industry is threatening the health of our environment and communities.
It’s time for Queensland to clean up its act. A public inquiry is needed to shed light on the influence of the mining industry on government, so that the Linc disaster is not repeated.
This piece was first published by New Matilda.