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Senator the Hon Robert Hill
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Minister for the Environment and Heritage
19 October 2000
Federal Environment Minister Robert Hill has urged the mining industry to continue efforts to improve its environmental performance, particularly in its overseas operations.
Senator Hill has delivered the Essington Lewis Memorial Lecture in Adelaide - the first time the address, usually given by mining industry leaders, has been delivered by a Federal Environment Minister.
Senator Hill has told the industry that Australia has established a reputation for environmental excellence in its domestic mining operations but that reputation could be tarnished by the acceptance by some of lower standards in off-shore operations.
"The mining industry has taken significant steps forward in environmental management over the past decade with the development of the Minerals Industry Code for Environmental Management, the uptake of public environment reporting, and the launch of the Global Mining Initiative.
"Australia is also at the forefront of the development and uptake of new technology in the mining industry. But despite the industry's contribution to the economy, its small physical footprint and its improved environmental performance, there is still a lingering perception within the community that it is causing major damage to the environment.
"There is no doubt that overseas incidents such as the Baia Mare cyanide spill in Romania earlier this year have damaged the industry's reputation both at home and abroad.
"The bottom line is that the duty of care to the environment and the community which Australian mining companies accept in their domestic operations must also apply to their offshore ventures."
Senator Hill says Australia is playing a major role in helping developing nations to broaden their understanding of mining processes and improve their regulatory standards.
"The government and the mining industry has developed the Best Environmental Practice Management series which covers more than 20 areas of mining expertise.
"We have translated and promoted these to developing nations, particularly within our region. This series assist the mining industry in those nations to improve its performance while at the same time allowing regulators to develop and enforce appropriate environmental standards.
"Following a request from the United Nations Environment program, we have committed $65,000 to develop two new modules under this series to address areas such as cyanide management, acid mine drainage, and tailings dam management - all issues which have been brought into focus by the cyanide spill in Romania.
"We will now build further on these efforts by hosting a UNEP workshop in Perth next week on environmental regulation of mining operations. More than 40 representatives from 17 nations will attend to consider how to develop more rigorous standards for mining operations.
"We have also been on the first governments to provide a commitment of financial support for the work of the Global Mining Initiative which will help deliver sustainable outcomes in the mining industry.
"While this process is going on, the Australian mining industry needs to continue its work toward achieving environmental excellence in all its operations, regardless of whether the offshore location of some of those operations may bring them under a less rigorous set of mandatory requirements.
"A good first step would be to encourage all signatories to the Minerals Industry Code of Environmental Management to apply its principles to both their domestic and international operations. The annual public environmental reports compiled by these companies should also address performance in overseas operations to give the community greater confidence that the Australian mining industry is meeting its responsibility to the global environment."
The Essington Lewis Memorial Lecture is hosted by the Adelaide Branch of the Australasian Institute of Minerals and Metallurgy under an endowment from BHP. Born in South Australia, Essington Lewis rose through the ranks at BHP to become regarded as one its most influential CEOs. He was also Director of Munitions and Aircraft Production during World War II.
A copy of Senator Hill's speech will be available at www.environment.gov.au
Media contact: Matt Brown 0419 693 515
October 19, 2000