Victoria’s mining laws are failing to protect the environment and must be urgently overhauled, according to a leading environmental law centre.
The Environment Defenders Office has called on the Baillieu government to make a raft of changes, including introducing no-go zones to protect sensitive areas and an immediate moratorium on new coal and unconventional gas projects.
The office said Victorian communities were deeply concerned about the impact of mining and felt the environment is being treated as an afterthought,
But the government hit back this week, saying the claims were deceptive and designed to hurt the industry.
Office spokesman Michael Power said mining in Victoria received special treatment based on a false belief that its public benefits always outweighed the cost.
“The report…draws directly on our first-hand experience as lawyers, working with regional communities across Victoria who are deeply concerned about the impacts of mining, particularly for coal and coal seam gas, on their land and environment,” he said.
“It reflects the disappointment that these people feel with Victoria’s mining laws, a regime that does not give them information about projects that may affect their health and livelihoods, and that does not give them a real say in whether or how mining goes ahead.”
The wide-ranging report said current legislation must be amended because it does not require greenhouse gas emissions to be considered when a mining project is approved by the government.
It said normal restrictions protecting native vegetation currently do not apply to mining projects while an opaque development and approval process does not require public input or consultation, with local residents often unaware of nearby mining applications.
More must also be done, it said, to protect natural resources and an improved planning strategy could include no go zones for sensitive areas.
The report follows a renewed push from the government to open up untouched Latrobe Valley coalfields for tender and a declaration this month from federal Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson that the area could become a mining export centre like the Pilbara.
A government spokeswoman said yesterday Victoria had strong protections in place and would continue to enforce them while delivering economic growth for Victoria.
“The [office’s] claims are wrong and are part of its campaign of misinformation seeking to shut down all exploration for coal and gas resources in this state,” she said.
Parliament’s Economic Development and Infrastructure Committee is currently investigating the Victorian mining industry is due to deliver its report next week.
Opposition resources spokesman John Lenders said more transparency was needed.