Research into the role and effectiveness of independent inquiries in mining has received over $300,000 from the Australian Research Council’s (ARC) Linkage Program.
“Public lessons, private interests: Do inquiries promote industry change?” brings together experts from the University of Queensland (UQ), the Australia National University (ANU), gold mining company Newmont, and leading international non-governmental organisation, RESOLVE.
The project is led by Professor Deanna Kemp, Director of the Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining within UQ’s Sustainable Minerals Institute (SMI).
Professor Kemp said there had been an increase over the past decade in the number of companies commissioning independent inquiries, as a means of responding to major issues and community grievances.
“Mining companies are facing increased public scrutiny over the social and environmental impacts of resource extraction and as a result a number of companies have initiated inquiries and ceded control over the process and the outcome. But little is known about their governance arrangements or whether they drive change,” she said.
“Large-scale mining developments are complex: they straddle national boundaries, economies and cultures, and intersect with the rights, interests and worldviews of different groups, in unique and often problematic ways.”
“These circumstances are bound to raise issues that are difficult to resolve, and these inquiries may offer a potential pathway forward.”
Professor Kemp said the award from the ARC will allow them to investigate the utility of these inquiries for different stakeholder groups and also draw on lessons learned in conventional government led commissions of inquiry.
“It will define a set of principles, guidelines and pre-conditions for conducting inquiries that achieve meaningful change,” she said.
Both Newmont and RESOLVE are longstanding partners of the Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining, and have worked on a number of projects with the Centre over the years.
Newmont Senior Vice President of External Relations, Nick Cotts, said public inquiry has been very helpful for Newmont to gain an independent perspective of some challenging situations and provide useful guidance and direction.
“We are excited to partner with SMI and RESOLVE to better understand inquiry processes and how they can be designed to deliver better outcomes,” he said.
RESOLVE’s President and CEO, Stephen D’Esposito, added the project was an opportunity to take a fresh look at the inquiry process.
“We’ve participated in, designed, and led independent inquires. In that role we’ve seen public benefits as well as challenges and shortcomings,” he said.
“SMI can help us pull back, take a wide lens view, and ask, what’s working, for all stakeholders.”
The project is expected to run for three years.