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Speech by Senator Robert Hill
Minister for the Environment
10 December 1996
I would like to congratulate the Minerals Council of Australia for achieving what I consider to be a major step towards improving environmental management in the mining sector.
The intrinsic value of the environment to the well-being and quality of life for our generation and future generations is now a globally accepted concept. We have come to understand that the environment can no longer be treated as an infinite resource, with long term values squandered for short term gain.
All sections of our community must share the responsibility of proper stewardship of our environment - in a vibrant democracy like ours, it is neither appropriate nor effective for this responsibility to be borne by government alone.
For this reason I am pleased to be with you today to celebrate the launch of the Australian Minerals Industry's Code for Environmental Management.
The Code has been developed largely by the Industry, though I am pleased to note there has been considerable consultation along the way, including environmental NGO's and, the Commonwealth Government. Credit must be given to the ACF who initially stimulated discussion about an environmental code through their publication Guidelines for Global Business, A Discussion Paper.
The Minerals Industry Code sets out a commendable list of principles, and a range of requirements that will mean participating companies will have to perform well beyond regulatory requirements to conform. A fundamental requirement of the Code is for signatory companies to pursue environmental excellence and continual improvement in their environmental endeavours and to recognise at all levels of operation their "duty of care" not only to the environment, but also to the surrounding community.
Another important requirement of the Code is for mining companies to publish regular, public reports about their environmental performance. I believe this is a critical step in responding to public concern about environmental damage that can be caused by mining.
The regular environmental report cards will allow the industry, the public and government to understand just how the mining sector is performing in its environmental management. And ensure that the Code does not become some sort of blanket that companies can use to provide a false impression of their level of commitment to the environment.
The Industry should see environmental reporting as a valuable benchmarking tool to identify and pursue opportunities for continual improvement.
The Code facilitates openness. Openness with information is essential if community concerns are to be properly addressed. The small number of mining operations reported in the media for failing to respond or providing inadequate responses to environmental incidents can unfortunately reinforce the poor perception of mining held by some members of the public. Therefore the reporting demanded under the Code is in my view a very welcome development.
Another positive aspect is the requirement for auditing.
I understand there has been considerable discussion during development of the Code as to the adequacy of measures for assessing compliance. If this Code is to meet the community's' and shareholders' expectations , it is vital that the Code is seen to be transparent and credible from both within and outside the industry.
It is also vital that the Industry appreciates that environmental performance should not be static. The Code represents only the beginning. Some companies are already performing close to the standards set in the Code. They should be commended.
If this can be achieved, I am sure that the Code will develop into a very sound platform from which the mining industry can continue to provide economic security for Australia, without compromising the economic, cultural, recreational and biological values of our environment which we hold so dearly.
The improved environmental credentials which will result for the Australian mining industry will also greatly assist in securing and further strengthening its position and environmental competitiveness internationally.
It is therefore, my pleasure to formally launch the Australian Minerals Industry Code for Environmental Management, and urge all Australian mining companies to become signatories.