New Minerals Council Chair Calls for ‘Laser-Like Focus’ on Safety

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The new chair of the Minerals Council of Australia, former federal assistant treasurer Helen Coonan, has called for a “laser-like focus” on safety saying it must be the mining industry’s number one priority.

Ms Coonan’s comments come after two recent deaths in Queensland brought the number of fatalities in the state’s mines and quarries to six in just  12 months, putting a sharp spotlight on and raising questions about the industry’s approach to safety.

“I’m sure that every member of the Minerals Council wants to achieve nil deaths and nil injuries at mine sites. We want our workers to be safe at work and to return safely to their families. So that means that we have to work with our state mining councils, we’ve got to work with governments, we have got to work with unions and stakeholders,” Ms Coonan said.

“I’m sure that the industry’s intentions are that there be, certainly, no fatalities in mines. One death is unacceptable, but there’ve been a number of deaths in mines in recent times. That suggests to me that we have to have a look at a re-set, (and) perhaps look at a culture that might not have safety front of mind,” she told The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.

“The fact that deaths occur I think means that we need to have a laser-like focus on how we might do things better,” she said.

Ms Coonan identified safety, the urgent need to streamline the approvals process for mining projects and building mining’s track record on environmental sustainability as three key priorities.

Queensland mining has been rocked by the deaths with the latest two prompting a crisis meeting in Queensland parliament this month. The meeting brought together mining company leaders, mining regulators, unions and the state’s resources minister.

Ms Coonan said she wanted an early focus on safety and hoped to see “some early gains”. She recently succeeded Vanessa Guthrie as chair of the influential mining industry lobby group headquartered in Canberra.

She is the inaugural chair of the Australian Financial Complaints Authority, a director of Snowy Hydro and a director of Crown Resorts. But she is best known for her 15-year career in federal politics, where she served as minister for revenue and assistant treasurer, and communications minister in the Howard government.

Ms Coonan, who had a lengthy career in the law before entering parliament, said she had a very keen interest in the resources sector and had acquired a range of skills from her career in politics, the law and board level corporate experience, that she wanted to deploy.

One death is unacceptable, but there’ve been a number of deaths in mines in recent times.

Helen Coonan, chair of the Minerals Council of Australia

On delays to project approvals Ms Coonan said they were costing the economy billions of dollars, with the total approvals process for one recently approved mine, the Wallarah 2 coal mine project near Wyong in New South Wales, taking 16 years. “There’s no doubt that our members and projects face unacceptable delays in getting mining licences and approvals to proceed,” she said.

Her appointment comes as mining companies continue to face challenges from environmental campaigners, as well as shareholder activists wanting mining companies to take more action to fight climate change.

Ms Coonan said the industry’s relationship with investors was of great significance, adding that the mining industry was listening carefully when it came to the environment. “What I think the industry doesn’t want is militant action on divestment. Because that’s not in the interests of existing shareholders and probably the economy more broadly,” she said.

Ms Coonan’s appointment to the role comes as the Minerals Council continues its recovery from a turbulent time in 2017, when BHP told the mining body to stop promoting coal-fired power as a solution to Australia’s energy challenges.

Asked about the relationship between BHP and the Minerals Council today, Ms Coonan said the MCA was a broad church, valued all of its members and could provide “a very strong voice and advocate for all of our members”.

Source: WA Today, 28 July 2019