Inspectorate must rid itself of 'in bed' image: Ombudsman

THE Queensland Ombudsman has criticised the Queensland Mines Inspectorate for bad record keeping and being too close to the industry in a report tabled in parliament yesterday.
Inspectorate must rid itself of 'in bed' image: Ombudsman Inspectorate must rid itself of 'in bed' image: Ombudsman Inspectorate must rid itself of 'in bed' image: Ombudsman Inspectorate must rid itself of 'in bed' image: Ombudsman Inspectorate must rid itself of 'in bed' image: Ombudsman

Queensland Ombudsman David Bevan.

Vivienne Ryan

Titled the Regulation of Mine Safety in Queensland the report looked at whether the state’s mine safety watchdog was up to scratch.

Ombudsman David Bevan found there was inadequate reporting within the QMI and recommended a new position of Commissioner for Mine Safety to be established.

“I found that the QMI is not recording much of its informal compliance activity at mines, which means it has an incomplete picture of the performance of individual mines on safety and could lead to some safety concerns not being followed up,” Bevan said.

Although Bevan found the QMI was not inappropriately influenced by the mining industry, he said there was a “reasonable perception” it was.

“This is mainly because of its location and reporting structure within the Department of Mines and Energy, which is the department responsible for promoting and encouraging mining in Queensland,” Bevan said.

“I have recommended the inspectorate be operationally independent of the rest of the department and that the head of the inspectorate be authorised to report directly to the minister on mine safety issues.”

The report was instigated by the ombudsman in reaction to media and academic criticism of Queensland mine safety.

Bevan found the inspectorate’s practices were in line with the state’s mine safety legislation, but improvements could be made.

Recommendations included that QMI take greater responsibility for the investigation of incidents on minesites which could result in serious injury and implement better recording practices.

In April this year changes were proposed to the Queensland coal safety legislation which would force mines to provide information immediately to police and QMI officers who are investigating a fatality or serious mining accident.

The changes were sparked by a fatal accident at BHP Billiton’s Cannington mine after it took 28 hours for investigators to get much-needed information and commence their investigations.

Bevan also found the low number of prosecutions by the QMI did not mean it was not carrying out its role.

“However, QMI’s failure to record much of its other compliance activity meant it could not effectively defend itself against these sorts of accusation,” he said.

If Bevan’s recommendation of a new mine safety commissioner is taken up by the Queensland Government, the new commissioner would chair existing advisory councils, advise the minister on mine safety matters and report to parliament on QMI’s performance.

Queensland Mines and Energy Minister Geoff Wilson welcomed the ombudsman’s report and said many of the report’s recommendations had been implemented but he would examine the rest.

The minister used the report to endorse the State Government’s move earlier this month to impose a levy on the mining industry to fund the QMI.

“We are asking $26 million from an industry that was worth $26 billion to Queensland in 2006-07,” Wilson said.

However, the Queensland Resources Council vehemently disagreed.

“One has to wonder why, after being handed a clean bill of health for this model in March, that the Government decided to ignore this and declare, without consultation, that the QMI should be paid for by industry,” QRC chief executive Michael Roche said.

Yesterday International Longwall News reported Roche’s grave concerns over QMI’s independence if the mining industry was to fund its safety watchdog.

“It’s a cornerstone of public policy that an effective industry regulator must not only be impartial but also seen to be impartial,” Roche said.

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