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Submissions to Mining Minerals and Sustainable Development project (2001)

14 November 2001

Mr Bren Sheehy
Regional Coordinator, MMSD
Australian Minerals & Energy Environment Foundation
c/- Swinburne University
144 High Street

Dear Sir

Submissions to Mining Minerals
and Sustainable Development project

Thank you for the
invitation to the recent Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development
(MMSD) Brisbane conference entitled Engaging stakeholders - improving
industry performance
. Unfortunately I was unable to join the conference
but John Southalan, a senior policy officer from the Commission, attended
on my behalf. I have now had the opportunity to consider the MMSD project
and the papers presented at the Brisbane conference, and wish to provide
some comments for the MMSD project in Australia.

I commend the MMSD
(Australia) project, with its acknowledgement of a 'transition to sustainable
development', recognising that past practices are not sustainable and
need to be changed. I am pleased to read that AMEEF, in managing the Australian
part of the global MMSD project, aims to build understanding and trust
between the mining industry and those affected by its operations, and
to develop a shared vision for future development of minerals in Australia.
These aims emphasise the importance of improving the relationship between
miners and Indigenous communities.

I am concerned, however,
that the aims outlined above are not reflected in some of the AMEEF studies.
I understand that the consultants' studies will contribute toward AMEEF's
final report and I therefore wish to provide some comments at this stage
to enable these to be addressed in future stakeholder meetings and also
any ensuing reports.

The following four
points provide a summary of my concerns. The numerical references are
to my more detailed comments, on the various papers and proceedings in
the MMSD (Australia) project, which are enclosed with this letter.

1. Some AMEEF material
does not accord with the aspirations of the MMSD world-wide project stated
by its director, Luke Danielson, that 'MMSD aims to highlight best practice
and propose a broadly accepted global framework to the sector which will
raise the bar for the management of issues such as human rights...and
community impact'. [1] Overall, the AMEEF material fails
to adequately refer to, or even acknowledge, internationally recognised
human rights principles that are fundamental to the concept of sustainable
development (sections 1.1 & 2 of enclosed comments). Of most concern
is the direction and proposals from the Managing Minerals Wealth
area of AMEEF's work, some of which are inconsistent with the human rights
of Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders (sections 3.1 &
3.4). I also have similar concerns about the Baseline Assessment
(sections 4.2 & 4.3).

2. The departure
of the AMEEF proceedings from international standards on human rights
is most apparent in the treatment of native title. In the AMEEF material,
native title is characterised as either:

  • an 'impediment'
    to land access for mining purposes; or
  • a beneficent measure
    to improve the socio-economic situation of disadvantaged Aboriginal

Both these approaches
misconstrue the reason why native title is recognised and protected (section
3.1). They ignore Indigenous peoples' rights to protection of their property
and culture. Most significantly, they do not accept that native title
(including legal requirements under the Native Title Act that mining activities
and planning must accommodate Indigenous rights to land) is now part of
the changed bottom line of sustainable mineral development that must be
incorporated into management of mining practices.

3 AMEEF emphasises
the importance of developing a shared vision for Australia's future mineral
development. However, some AMEEF studies display a lack of understanding
of the rights of the Indigenous people affected by mining development.
The Baseline Assessment presents views as if all Australians hold
them, even though they are contrary to the interests of Indigenous Australians.
It is unlikely that any proposed vision will be shared if it is contrary
to the human rights of Australia's Indigenous people.

4 Some AMEEF material
places economic profitability as the paramount consideration. Such an
approach is inconsistent with the achievement of a balance between economic,
environmental and social considerations. Achieving this balance is fundamental
to a transition to sustainable development.

The human rights
of Indigenous peoples, and their relationship to sustainable mining, must
be addressed in AMEEF's analysis of mining in Australia. The content and
value of the MMSD (Australia) project's final report will be diminished
if it contains material or recommendations that are inconsistent with
Indigenous human rights.

Considerable work
produced by AMEEF's consultants is consistent with, or makes reference
to, human rights principles. John Rankin's paper in Brisbane addressed
the increasing global discrepancies in living standards and consumption,
and implications for Australian society. Other AMEEF-commissioned work,
particularly in Stakeholder Engagement and Mining and Indigenous Communities,
will provide useful contributions to the final report.

I consider it useful
for matters to be widely discussed, assisting differing approaches to
endeavour to reach a common position. Accordingly, I intend to provide
copies of my letter and enclosed comments to various relevant parties,
and would be grateful for your views on this.

I understand the
next AMEEF stakeholder meeting is scheduled for early December in Melbourne,
and later that month MMSD expects to coordinate an international Indigenous
peoples' workshop to discuss the relationship between indigenous people
and the mining, minerals and metals sector. The Commission would like
to attend these meetings and I would be most grateful if you informed
me of any relevant developments.

I also enclose, for
your information and reference, recent issues of the Native
Title Report
. These reports, which comment on the Native Title Act
and its effect on Indigenous human rights, are provided to the Commonwealth
Attorney General as required under the Native Title Act. The reports provide
far greater analysis of many of the matters I have only briefly mentioned
in the enclosed comments.

If you have any questions
regarding this matter, please contact John Southalan. John's direct telephone
number is (02) 9284 9728, or you can use e-mail to <>.

Yours faithfully

Dr William Jonas
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner

enclosed: Comments
by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner on
MMSD (Australia) Project, as at 14 November 2001

reported at

Last updated 12 June 2002.