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Speech
Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage
The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP

Grand Hyatt, Melbourne
Tuesday 7 May

Check against delivery

Launch of the Report of the Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development Australia Project


Tricia Caswell, Hugh Morgan, Ian Hunter, AMEEF (the Australian Minerals and Energy Environment Foundation) members, ladies and gentlemen:

Thank you for the invitation to be involved here this morning, at an important time, not only for the future of the mining and minerals industry, but also for Australia's push toward sustainability through greater responsibility for our environment.

The cynics might suggest, and I daresay plenty have, that any industry involved mainly in digging up non-renewable resources can hardly be concerned with sustainability.

We know that is no longer true. In Australia, mining has produced some of our finest captains of industry. The foresight they have shown in the past toward exploration and development, marketing and corporate bottom lines is now being brought to bear on other concerns, namely those of environmental and social impact.

The best of our leaders in the mining industry have been pioneers in placing environmental and social issues on the corporate agenda. AMEEF has been on the scene now for 11 years dealing with environmental issues and its focus is very much on the future.

The mining industry has made, and continues to make, a remarkable contribution to Australia's economy and to our growth as a nation. In the gold rush of the 1850s and ever since, it has been a heavy contributor to our economy and to our nation building in terms of employment and exports, and sustaining many communities in regional and remote Australia.

I note too, with the Budget just around the corner, that the industry also makes a sizeable contribution to Government coffers through taxes and royalties.

Perhaps as important are the strides made by the Australian mining industry in its relationship with our indigenous people. With greater regard and understanding have come some mutually beneficial results.

It was not always so, but I am proud that this great Australian industry, with aboriginal culture now influencing its own corporate culture, has resulted in an awareness and respect that is envied by miners elsewhere who have yet to achieve such relationships with their indigenous peoples.

Any sustainable enterprise has at its heart a social contract. No company, no government, no nation can survive without support from its community.

Corporations and investors alike have come to realise that the financial statement is not enough - that good scores on the social and environmental bottom line are perhaps even more relevant for longer-term sustainability.

Just over a year ago, the Howard Government agreed to become the first national government to financially support the Mining Minerals and Sustainable Development project.

The report that is being launched today, Facing the Future, is a charter for a sustainable future for this industry. MMSD is a landmark project - it recognises that if we are to face the big issues successfully, we must face them together - governments, industry and non-government organisations alike.

As Benjamin Franklin remarked when signing the Declaration of Independence: "We must all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately."

The mining industry, which (very much like government) has persistent critics, has shown courage in opening itself up to this level of scrutiny and to invite those critics to be part of the process. It is a measure of a deep commitment to the future that the industry would engage in such dialogue. However, the risk-takers, the entrepreneurs, the pioneers are usually willing to endure some short-term pain for the sake of long-term gain.

It must be said that mining and mineral processing are not the only sectors facing the challenge to improve their environmental and social performance and I believe it would be appropriate for other industries to consider adopting similar approaches.

As you well know, this is just as much about future license to operate as it is about any altruism.

Although MMSD received financial support from industry, this project has been conducted at arm's length. The results speak for themselves and I commend AMEEF for its diligence and commitment in maintaining the project's independence.

The report represents an unprecedented level of engagement between industry, federal and state governments, unions, academics, non-governmental organisations, community groups and indigenous representative bodies. I am delighted that so many were prepared to set aside differences to focus on an important global issue.

It is important that these groups have been able to work together constructively to identify a more sustainable future for the minerals sector and the communities among whom it operates.

I hope that any groups currently outside of this global process will consider contributing to the process from here. In the interests of the environment and the communities we all seek to serve - we must ensure a constructive engagement between government, business and civil society.

Facing the Future is a report of value, being the product of the open, inclusive and accountable process necessary to face the considerable and difficult challenges ahead.

This report reflects a wide spectrum of views. It did not seek consensus - and important differences remain. But it did seek to establish a basis on which we can begin to address those differences, and move forward. It provides the basis of dialogue and greater trust between industry, government and community.

This and the global report - to be released shortly - have been a year in preparation. There has been much dialogue and a great deal of evidence has been gathered. This not only recognises the steps that the industry has already taken but it supports the need for continued change. Industry must now as a matter of urgency agree on how it will respond to the report's findings, the agenda for action.

It is an exciting agenda that recognises the necessity of, among other things:

Facing the Future sets out agenda for government as well as industry and other players and I will ensure that the Howard Government gives the agenda for action the serious and careful consideration that it warrants.

Similarly, I look forward to seeing industry's response to its own "Agenda for Change" at the Global Mining Initiative conference in Toronto next week - and to working towards sustainability with you in the years ahead.

Bold Minerals Sector Report Released Media Release

Commonwealth of Australia