News - 08 December 2023

The public deserves a fair say in Victorian mining reforms

This month, the Allan Government announced a new push for integrity in government, with updates to its Code of Conduct that promise to “mak[e] sure those who are elected to serve the Victorian community are held to the highest standards of integrity and accountability.”

A renewed focus on integrity and accountability is welcome, and should include commitments to proper consultation and public participation for major reforms. This would mark an encouraging new approach to governing, following previous attempts by the former Andrews government to quietly push through sweeping reforms to the State’s mining laws without proper consultation with the public and environmental organisations.

The Mineral Resources (Sustainable Development) Amendment Bill 2023 was passed on 17 August 2023, amid deep concern from civil society and the cross bench that proper and adequate public consultations had not occurred. Instead, vested interests were given a front seat to the reforms, which were formulated behind closed doors.

The reforms remove key processes that previously provided insight for communities and the general public into proposed mining activities, as well as shifting the mineral regime to a duty-based system, which will rely more on developers to act responsibly. Unsurprisingly, the reforms fail to enshrine critical human rights of the public to participate in assessment processes for proposed mines and to challenge bad or illegal decisions.

This is not what integrity and accountability look like. As minerals exploration activities continue to mount in Victoria, the Government must respect the public’s right to a fair say.

For years the Wilderness Society has worked with communities who are overwhelmingly opposed to destructive mining projects. But these projects often go ahead because corporations have too much influence in our system. In addition to undermining integrity and accountability, a lack of public involvement leads to bad decisions, facilitating destructive projects which are driving a wildlife extinction crisis, destroying globally important ecosystems, and leaving people to suffer the consequences.

Laws and policies that empower the public with a fair say in environmental decision-making will enable better outcomes for people and nature. The Victorian Government is planning additional changes to Victoria’s mining regime via new regulations, which will no doubt be subject to strong scrutiny by civil society. These regulations must be based on meaningful and effective consultation with First Nations, the public and conservation groups.