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NSWMC EC Conference 2011 Opening Speech NBW[1]

NSWMC EC Conference 2011 Opening Speech NBW[1]

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Published by: David4564654 on Oct 24, 2011
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10/24/2011

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Dr Nikki Williams, Chief Executive, NSW Minerals CouncilOpening Plenary, NSWMC Environment & Community Conference“Changing Times: Take the Lead”Wollongong, October 24, 2011
The Hon Robyn Parker, Minister for the Environment and Minister forHeritage, Greg Sullivan, Deputy CEO, OEH, Brad Mullard Executive DirectorDTI, Mick Buffier Chairman of the Executive Committee, DistinguishedGuests, Ladies and Gentlemen - Good morning and welcome to our 2011Environment and Community Conference.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us,we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way…” 
So begins the famous book,
A Tale of Two Cities 
. It might just as easilydescribe the great contradictions that currently characterize how Australiafeels about its mining industry.We’re the darlings of the business pages, yet we’re painted as demons in theearly general news. We help Treasurers keep budgets healthy and giveAustralia the strength to stave off the threat of recession, yet our industry is alightning rod for the most adversarial of political debates.We’re in the midst of one of the longest and strongest mining booms in ournation’s history. Yet we face multiple policy, regulatory and legislativechallenges that might collectively render our sector a less attractivedestination for international investment than countries such as Indonesia,Colombia or even Mongolia.We find ourselves central to the most divisive political debates in our nation’shistory. Whether it’s the carbon tax, the mining tax, the so called ‘two-speed’
 
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economy, future budget surpluses, land access, competing land use,cumulative impacts, or crumbling infrastructure in some of our key regionalcentres, the mining industry has skin in the game in most of the debates thatare contributing right now to the future direction of this country and our state.For an industry that has historically preferred to keep its head down and geton with business, it’s an unfamiliar and uncomfortable position to be in. But itdoes present us with a unique opportunity to take the lead and to leave a reallegacy that reaches beyond the mine gate, even beyond our local miningcommunities, and into the future of Australia. We need to leverage ourposition in the economy into one that allows us to make a real and lastingcontribution which is valued by Australians. This is not a ‘nice to have’. This isa must do.At the state level we have a new government, and a new opportunity. Gone isthe paralysis that emerged two years out from an election whose result was aforegone conclusion.Yet we have a set of circumstances that could lead to a new kind of paralysis:bitter debates over the emerging coal seam gas sector, issues of competingland use disingenuously framed as a choice between the ‘right to mine’ andthe ‘right to eat’; governments struggling to integrate the industry into thefuture of nation and state.It was for this reason that the NSW Government’s recent submission to theLegislative Council Inquiry into coal seam gas made for encouraging reading.It demonstrates the type of clear thinking and plain speaking on competingland use and coexistence that is so desperately needed.Part of the submission states that: “The NSW Government believes thatbalanced co-existence of mining (including CSG) and agriculture is not onlypossible, it is essential. The Government recognises that such co-existencenecessitates appropriate management and assessment requirements on CSGand mining activities…. The NSW Government has a clear vision of the
 
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economic future of this State that involves growing both agricultural andresources output while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In order torestore strength and resilience in the NSW economy, co-existence is in thecommunity’s overall best interests, both at local levels and from a state wideperspective.”That stands out as a rare moment of clarity. Overlaid on the challengingissues we face, is a new reality in activism. There is disillusionment with thepartisan and increasingly strident nature of political debate. There is a senseof frustration at the lack of certainty and poor progress on key issues.Australia is a paradox of those who don’t care and are disengaged, and thosewho are so engaged and so hardened in their views that they’re prepared totake matters into their own hands. They’ve written government off asincompetent or unable to deliver the changes they believe are needed. This isa new era. The industrialisation of activism.The adversarial, partisan construct of modern Australian politics, whether atstate or federal level, has contributed to an obligatory face-off over almostevery issue you could think of.The 24-hour news cycle has turned up the heat on our politicians. It leads to anew paralysis, because it’s created an environment where the voices of 10%of people opposed to an idea can be amplified to a deafening roar. This ‘roar’apparently feels so overwhelming that it often means governments don’t acton their convictions, or refuse to engage on the detail of policy and itsimplications, leading to political stalemate and a virtual policy vacuum.I am not seeking to de-legitimise activism. It’s an important part of ourfreedom of speech. Indeed, we must reserve the right for activism to effectchange. But government processes don’t seem able to deal with it. Individualindustries can’t deal with it; and the reality is, that everything is grinding to ahalt.

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