MCA calls for infrastructure investment and ongoing sustainable development

A new wave of economic reform, social and physical infrastructure capacity building and renewed commitment to sustainable development is essential if Australians are to benefit from the best opportunities in the minerals industry in a generation, according to the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA). In his opening address to the 2007 Sustainable Development Conference in Cairns, MCA Chief Executive, Mitchell H Hooke, warned of the dangers of becoming complacent, in the current climate of unprecedented industry expansion, about the industry’s commitment to sustainable development, the continued imperative for economic reform and the critical need for human, institutional and infrastructure capacity building.

Painting a hypothetical horror scenario, using the “wisdom of hindsight, about what might happen in the year 2025 if socioeconomic reform and global sustainable development is not pursued,” Hooke described a world wracked by division, poverty, protectionism and hyper-nationalism, and a guarded country-by-country piecemeal approach to managing climate change. In this bleak world, Australia would be left with an ageing, relatively unskilled population, a narrow tax base, low economic growth, high unemployment, social disharmony and a growing burden of welfare payment, and an ailing climate.

Hooke outlined the risks inherent in the industry’s present success and what industry, government and community, in partnership, needed to do lest the industry “veer into the path that leads to the 2025 horror scenario”.

Internationally, Australia must continue to press for “a competitive, open global trading system based on an agreed set of rules and a global approach to reconciling climate change with energy security.

“Domestically, we must get the public policy settings right”, he said, calling for policies to address the capacity constraints restricting increased production in the minerals sector such as export infrastructure bottlenecks, shortages of skilled trades people and professionals, inconsistent and complex regulation, land access, reform of industrial relations, a simple and equitable emissions trading scheme, a more efficient Federal-State system and a new focus on improving markets for water and electricity.

He cautioned that in the rush to protect the bottom line, the minerals industry could not afford to fall into the trap of taking short cuts, of compromising its commitment to sustainable development. He emphasised the need for continued commitment in facing new challenges – which he identified as including efficient use and access to water, reconciling climate change management with energy security, ensuring the social and economic health and wellbeing of communities in which we operate and addressing the considerable capacity constraints to growth.

Hooke foreshadowed a greater focus within the MCA on the health and welfare of the industry’s workforce and the communities in which the minerals industry operates. And he called for greater commitment by governments to resourcing Indigenous representative organisations to achieve the minerals industry’s goal of sustained economic and social development in Indigenous communities.

The theme of the MCA’s 2007 conference is A Climate for Change. The event is internationally recognised as a pre-eminent sustainable development gathering and brings together over 450 heads of industry, Indigenous leaders, key decision makers, and environmental specialists at a time when the industry is experiencing unprecedented boom conditions.

Over the past five years in particular, the industry has shifted its focus in defining performance beyond the narrower consideration of financial performance to include responsible social development and effective environmental management. The success of a modern minerals operation in contributing to Australia’s wealth and prosperity, is today measured in terms of the triple bottom line – social and environmental dividends, as well as financial returns. Further, the industry considers the intergenerational benefits of natural resource development should extend beyond the life of our mining operations. That is, that the wealth generated from the conversion of natural capital into societal capital should be enduring within and between generations.