06/11/2007 - 22:00

Carbon target of overzealous rules

06/11/2007 - 22:00

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State Environment Minister David Templeman has set tongues wagging after he effectively vetoed one of the final decisions handed down by acting Environmental Protection Authority chairman Barry Carbon.

Carbon target of overzealous rules

State Environment Minister David Templeman has set tongues wagging after he effectively vetoed one of the final decisions handed down by acting Environmental Protection Authority chairman Barry Carbon.

Mr Carbon completed his stint as EPA chairman – following the early retirement of Wally Cox – by recommending that four projects should proceed, subject to various conditions.

The projects ranged from a gold mine expansion in Kalgoorlie to a power station north of Wanneroo, a residential sub-division in Shenton Park and a ‘greenfields’ mineral sands mine in the South West.

Such a diverse range of projects inevitably throws up a mix of issues, which Mr Carbon dealt with by providing pragmatic, sensible recommendations.

His advice came soon after the state government’s review of mining activity in the Mid West, which struck a sensible balance between environment and economic development objectives.

The review did not give the mining industry everything it wanted, nor did it lock out the mining companies, as some had feared.

Mr Carbon’s recommen-dations and the strategic review redressed some of the damage done to the environmental review process in Western Australia in recent years.

The process was widely seen as overly long, overly detailed and uncertain in its application.

Mr Templeman has undone some of this progress by deciding that Mr Carbon may be perceived to have been compromised by a potential conflict of interest.

Mr Carbon did some consul-tancy work nine years ago for Kalgoorlie Consolidated Gold Mines Ltd, the owner and oper-ator of Kalgoorlie’s Super Pit.

A local residents’ group opposed to the Super Pit expansion seized on this to argue that Mr Carbon’s impartiality had been compromised.

Mr Templeman has not questioned the advice he received from the EPA. However, he believes the government needs to ensure there is no possibility of a perception of conflict of interest. Therefore he has told the EPA that its new chairman, Paul Vogel, must review the Super Pit recommendation.

Mr Carbon’s personal rule is that potential conflicts of interest do not arise after five years; anything longer than that is ok.

The minister had an opportunity to take a stand. He could have pointed to the time that has elapsed since Mr Carbon worked for KCGM, the small amount of money he earned, and most importantly his track record over many years.

Mr Carbon has worked for environmental agencies in WA and Queensland, in Canberra and in New Zealand, and has worked for the CSIRO.

This didn’t seem to count for anything when the minister made his decision, preferring instead to ensure he did not upset the local residents.

 

Ticking boxes

Mr Templeman’s approach is symptomatic of a wider trend in the community and business.

For many organisations, compliance with process has become more important than the end objective.

This is apparent in the corporate world, where many companies are afraid of deviating from ‘best practice’ corporate governance guidelines.

In government, process drives everything, from tendering to grant applications and job applications. It results in voluminous paperwork and in many cases a box-ticking exercise, which ensures that participants in the process have covered their backsides.

But does it result in a better outcome?

While checks and balances are needed, there should still be a role for discretion and judgement, especially when a minister like Mr Templeman is asked to decide whether Mr Carbon is fit and proper to make a recommendation on a KCGM project.

The minister’s decision will create more delays for KCGM and necessitate more work by more consultants, all of which is likely to end with the same result.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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