Sustainability process passes test

Achieving worldwide consensus is an admirable aim, but even more noteworthy is a process which has kept the mining and minerals industries engaged in the one global issues project for the past eighteen months.

Workshops held in Perth earlier this month have advanced this process and the mineral industries input into the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development to be held in Johannesburg in September.

Former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner and chair of Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Mick Dodson, opened a three-day indigenous communities workshop with a call for mining companies to start regarding indigenous communities as untapped resources, rather than as burdens.

Attended by industry, government and community representatives from Canada, Indonesia, Australia, Zambia and Papua New Guinea, the workshop concluded with plans to establish an international network of indigenous communities impacted by mining activities.

This issue has been one of the most difficult to address in the Mining Minerals and Sustainable Development project to produce a global report on how the industries can contribute to sustainable development on a global scale.

Many unhappy experiences have contributed to a huge legacy and the Perth workshop was viewed as just one part of the process to build productive relationships with the aim of moving beyond history.

A second workshop brought together 35 participants from Government and industry to review the draft Australian MMSD report, a revision of which will be fed into a global report to be released in May.

Based on commissioned research, workshops, conferences and individual dialogue over the past 14 months, the draft report was judged to be generally fair and a good balance of stakeholder issues.

Nonetheless the workshop threw up an intense debate on ‘the right to mine’ and the contribution of mining to society. The general view, Australian MMSD regional coordinator Bren Sheehy reported, was that some industry and community values may always be irreconcilable and in the meantime, these differences just needed to be recognised.

Corporate governance, including values and ethics, was identified as the ultimate and critical issue underpinning all else, the consensus being that industry must get closer to communities.

With stronger community ties and improved understanding, improved decision-making could ensure sustainability.

Independently initiated industry dialogue to supplement that convened by industry organisations was seen as the key to better communication and more open and accountable industry practice.

Access to land and finance, a key driver for the MMSD project, was singled out for more attention. Becoming increasingly difficult, land and finance access demanded attention to better resource management, including water and air.

Following similar workshops in Melbourne, Brisbane and Darwin, the final Australian MMSD report will be released next month.

On March 20, 400 Australian stakeholders will have their chance to review the global draft report, under the guidance of MMSD global project leader Luke Danielson.

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