The Coalition has promised to deliver a billion-dollar reduction in ‘green and red tape’ each year if elected, as well as establish a “one-stop shop” for environmental approvals.
CFMEU mining and energy general secretary Andrew Vickers said the policy could give mining companies a convenient way of not complying with Australian standards for ensuring proper planning or the safe management of mining projects.
“On our own soil, business and mining lobby groups are using tighter market conditions – much of which is the companies’ own making – to line up behind Tony Abbott’s call for less 'red and green tape’,” he said.
However, the mining sector’s calls to eliminate regulatory burden are primarily around the approvals process, particularly environmental approval, which is laden with hurdles and duplication across state and federal governments.
Australian Coal Association CEO Dr Nikki Williams told ILN that cutting green tape was not code for lowering standards.
“Our industry has very high environmental and safety standards which we support,” Williams said.
“It is surprising that the CFMEU, which represents so many employees in the coal sector, is happy to support duplicative regulatory burdens which are driving investment away and the jobs of miners with it.
“Improving the efficiency of our regulatory system will ensure we can meet high standards and sustain the growth of the industry.”
Vickers said a Royal Commission investigation into Pike River recommended industry and site check inspectors be reintroduced to the New Zealand coal mining industry.
The miner’s union called the recently settled compensation for families “pathetic” and said it served as a reminder to ensure that mining companies cannot write their own rules.
“The Commission found that industry and site check inspectors, union roles traditionally managed by highly trained safety representatives and experts, could have played a crucial role in preventing the Pike River disaster,” Vickers said.
“Yet in Australia industry is taking steps to lessen the power of such health and safety representatives, both through lobbying to reduce regulation or through attempted intimidation and legal action as seen at BHP Billiton’s Bowen Basin coalmines,” Vickers added.
Mining unions have long claimed that the Australian mining sector is reduce the power of such representatives, recently a key point of dispute in recent BMA strikes in Queensland’s Bowen Basin.
The industry argues that this is not at all the case and the unions are up in arms because the mines are attempting to appoint a non-union representative to the health and safety positions.
During the long Bowen Basin battle, BHP said issues in the dispute weren’t related to safety and worker issues but rather were a battle for union power.
Vickers said Pike River was a tragic example of unscrupulous mine managers and company directors.
“But essentially it is a failure of both government and industry which allowed the stripping away of safety regulation at mine sites under the guise of ‘easing the regulatory burden’ for companies.”