Oxfam accuses Federal Resources Minister of green lighting environmental damage

Campaigns and Advocacy, Media Releases article written on the 12 Feb 2007

Oxfam Australia has attacked Federal Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane for effectively giving overseas Australian mining companies the green light to continue dumping billions of tonnes of toxic waste such as lead and mercury into the rivers and oceans of poor countries.
In an interview yesterday with Australian Associated Press, Mr Macfarlane said, ‘Australia respects the sovereign rights of every member country of APEC to set its own rules.’ Oxfam believes this to be disingenuous at best as the Australian Federal Government is well aware that the environmental protection laws of countries such as Indonesia, PNG and the Philippines where Australian miners operate are much less regulated than at home.
‘The Australian sense of fair-go appears not to extend to some of our poorest neighbours. Lives and livelihoods have been destroyed by the unsafe practices of Australian mining companies who dump toxic waste into rivers and oceans just because the local law allows it,’ said Andrew Hewett, Executive Director of Oxfam Australia.
Oxfam believes however that Australian companies involved in mining operations can contribute to local development and poverty alleviation. But to do so they must take a firm stand against practices that cause environmental degradation, rob people of livelihoods and drive poverty.
‘Does Australia want to contribute to the denial of human rights? Or do Australians choose instead to distinguish the Australian mining industry as a contributor to sustainable development and to the protection and promotion of human rights in the countries in which Australian mining companies operate,’ added Mr Hewett.
According to Oxfam it is increasingly clear that there is a need for an appropriate Australian complaints mechanism in order to ensure that claims of environmental and social damage by miners overseas are heard and that the human rights of Indigenous people are upheld.
‘We call on the mining sector to support the establishment of an independent complaints mechanism that allows the concerns of affected communities to be heard,’ said Mr Hewett.
It also makes sound business sense to cease the unsafe practice of dumping mine waste into rivers and oceans, says Oxfam. The human rights group believes if Australian companies continue to develop a terrible reputation in under-regulated countries the tide will turn against them and they will eventually be asked to leave or not granted access to new markets and countries.
‘Governments in the developing world will come to think twice about allowing companies with disreputable environmental track records to gain access to their natural resources. And that could mean a loss of Australian jobs and profits,’ Mr Hewett said.
Oxfam Australia is part of a coalition of international human rights groups, mining watchdogs, unions and Indigenous people’s organisations calling for an immediate ban on the practice of dumping of billions of tonnes of toxic waste into rivers and oceans.
For more information call Ian Woolverton on 0409 181 454