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Moving on from the age of confrontation

By Everald Compton - posted Monday, 5 March 2012


Mining, along with many other aspects of our life, suffers from the unfortunate fact that we live in an adversarial society that is avidly fostered by our politicians.

Every day, either in parliament or the media, they abuse one another in the most insulting and destructive manner that they possibly can. Never once do they talk of the many pathways along which they could walk together to advance Australia. They just keep on insulting one another, imploring us to vote for whichever one is the best insulter.

As the result of their pathetic example, a culture of hatred now filters down through every aspect of Australian life. Sadly, it is now accepted as the norm for business and community negotiations — even family disputes. To win you must denigrate your opposition, rubbish their products and services and drive them to the wall so that the winner will take all.

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Unfortunately, mining is suffering badly from the spreading of this community disease, which we can call “confrontation cancer”. Its symptoms are that it eats away at the very fabric of a mature society, and is more of a threat to Australia’s future than mining will ever be.

We have miners at war with, or defending themselves against, farmers, rural communities, environmentalists, indigenous people, trade unions, transport operators, economists, social commentators, religious leaders and others. But, it is important to note that the fault does not lie predominantly with miners. In fact, this is far from being the norm. All sides suffer from confrontation cancer and a good doctor will subscribe heavy doses of consultation, social planning and goodwill from day one.

An exploration permit granted by any government should be made conditional upon a miner agreeing, before digging a single hole, to hold preliminary consultations with all stakeholders in the region concerned, to discuss what may happen if viable mineral deposits are found and eventually mined.

Broad guidelines can be agreed as to how everyone may benefit, and this should include an acknowledgement by the Local Government that it may be called upon to provide social infrastructure that will enhance the lives of all who may work in the mines — including an improvement of the local environment far beyond the requirement of the mine to be environmentally friendly.

If consultation is based on goodwill every step of the way and broad agreements reached as early in the process as this, then this amiable atmosphere can prevail right through the process of exploration, mining and export of the resources, and the eventual total restoration of the land, water and vegetation.

Confrontation cancer can become an unlamented shadow on the horizon, and progressive Australians can generate many situations where everyone wins and Australia becomes a sustainably prosperous nation of enhanced social and environmental stature.

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Above all, politicians can learn much from such practical examples of how friendly consultation can advance the nation as the result of a quality of intelligent discussion far above their appalling standards of destructive behavior.

Holes in the ground

Like many Australians, I used to worry that, sometime during this century, Australia would become a continent made up of thousands of holes in the ground, the legacy of the greatest mining boom ever. However, an objective study of Australian mining shows that the land currently being used by mines does not cover as much territory as that which is occupied by all of our shopping centre car parks, most of which are an incredible eyesore.

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Article edited by Jo Coghlan.
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About the Author

Everald Compton is Chairman of The Longevity Forum, a not for profit entity which is implementing The Blueprint for an Ageing Australia. He was a Founding Director of National Seniors Australia and served as its Chairman for 25 years. Subsequently , he was Chairman for three years of the Federal Government's Advisory Panel on Positive Ageing.

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