3.3 Supporting community engagement and development

Community engagement requires high levels of commitment in order to be effective. As highlighted below, commitment must come first and foremost from senior leadership at the mining operation. Adequate financial as well as human resources must also be made available.

3.3.1 Support from senior leadership

Although there are long-term benefits to be gained from an open and transparent approach to community interaction, such an approach is not easy. It is essential that community engagement processes are supported and seen to be supported by senior leadership at the mine site; this means not only the general manager or mine manager, but the senior leadership team more broadly. Support will require active and visible involvement in engagement (for example, regular attendance at community meetings and stakeholder briefings).

3.3.2 Engaging internally and externally

Community engagement requires company personnel to work in the community, such as through community visitations, meetings and other activities. This external work takes time and is essential for understanding the community perspective and building trust. However, community engagement is not only about external relationships. Operations need to ensure that employees and internal company systems support the external engagement program. The quality of engagement externally and its relative success is directly dependent on the level of internal engagement and alignment about what is to be achieved outside the fence. Site personnel should be encouraged to participate in community engagement and incorporate community perspectives into their work, for example in designing recruitment and training programs, developing rehabilitation plans, and designing plant upgrades (where there may be a new opportunity to address community concerns over issues such as noise or dust).

The following case study exemplifies the mutual benefits that can evolve from many years of close cooperation between a mining operation and its neighbours.

Collapsed - Case study: Bulga Complex Coal Mine, NSW—Mines and wines coexisting

In the mid-1990s Xstrata (now Glencore Xstrata) was operating Bulga coalmine in the Hunter Valley in New South Wales. It applied for exploration licences to investigate further coal resources in an area beneath 40 commercial vineyards in the Broke-Fordwich wine region and adjacent to Wollombi Brook, a significant second-order stream in the area. In a public meeting attended by 200 local residents, strong concerns were expressed about the impacts of underground mining on viticulture and the area's water resources and were reported in state-wide media.

In response, the company formed a specific project team and established a community consultation committee to address the community's concerns. Agreement was reached with the community on the construction of a simulated vineyard (the vineyard trellis trial) over the existing South Bulga underground mine, to assess the impacts of subsidence on the vineyard infrastructure. The community was kept informed of the results of both the exploration program and the viticulture trials through field days and newsletters.

During the development of the environmental impact statement for the continuation of South Bulga's underground workings to the new Beltana highwall, longwall punch mine, a more detailed impact assessment was carried out for each property to be undermined. Private property management strategies were developed and tailored to each property and provided to owners in their own booklets. Following project approval, the booklets were further enhanced as a part of the subsidence management plan process. Finally, a comprehensive consultation program was established for the ongoing management of Beltana mine.

These initiatives strengthened the relationship between the mine and the community and minimised the environmental impacts of mining on the vineyards. A testament to the success of the consultation programs was that only two community objections were received on the development application and the supporting environmental impact statement.

Undermining operational vineyards was a first for Australia, and possibly the world. Without previous experience or research to rely upon, it was imperative that the potential impacts of mining subsidence on the vineyards were investigated and that a world-class vineyard monitoring program was developed in consultation with the key stakeholders and with the assistance of academics and consultants. Positive outcomes were achieved through a well-coordinated community consultative program, the close involvement of affected landowners and the commitment of the mining company.

In 2006, mining began under several vineyards, and continues to this day. Although there will always be competition between different types of land users in a highly sought-after area, such as the Hunter Valley, where the Bulga Complex Coal Mine and the Broke-Fordwich vignerons are both highly successful producers of their respective products, the two industries are managing to coexist. The mine has maintained its close cooperation with the vignerons, including the very important reporting of annual monitoring data to a technical review committee. By 2013, seven successful wine vintages comprising about 250,000 bottles of wine per year had been produced from 90 hectares of undermined vineyards. This close technical cooperation will have to continue for as long as the mine wishes to coexist with its wine-producing neighbours. Footnote 1

Consultation with key stakeholders in the development of the vineyard monitoring program

Consultation with key stakeholders in the development of the vineyard monitoring program.

Footnote 1
See NSWMC (2013) for an updated report by the New South Wales Minerals Council.

Return to footnote 1 referrer

3.3.3 Adequate resourcing

Adequate resources must be allocated for socioeconomic baseline studies and SIAs, building a community relations management system, employing staff with appropriate knowledge and skills, and providing for their professional development. Resourcing also means allowing adequate time and financial support to plan and undertake community engagement and to evaluate that engagement to ensure that outcomes are effective and appropriate.

3.3.4 Continuity of personnel

Community engagement relies on local relationships. However, in an industry such as mining, personnel often move between different operations and locations for career development and to gain experience in different contexts. As continuity of relationships with local people is important, succession and transition plans for key positions should be considered before personnel move on. Operations could also consider incentives to retain key personnel and ensure that relationship-building is shared broadly by the senior management team, rather than relying only on key individuals. Investment in the training and development of local staff is logical, as they will more often than not want to remain and work in their own communities.

3.3.5 Cooperation for managing cumulative impacts

Where there are multiple mines in a region, there may be benefits in companies taking a more collaborative approach to engagement. Recent research indicates that 'the language of cumulative impacts is now finding its way into mainstream regulatory discourse', and some jurisdictions (such as Queensland) are now requiring project proponents to identify potential cumulative impacts at the project approval stage and indicate what they will do to mitigate those impacts (Franks et al. 2013:644). This increasingly means that companies that do not actively seek to collaborate with others may eventually be compelled to do so, especially as community groups are starting to work together to tackle cumulative impacts such as dust, for example, and this is bringing more attention to the need for regulators and companies to pay far greater attention to this previously ignored aspect of impact management (see Bond et al. 2013).

For mining companies, regional cooperation may involve several different mining companies with operations in a particular region working together on community development projects, rather than working separately in an effort to maintain competitive advantage. Coalmines in the Hunter Valley in New South Wales and iron ore mines in the Pilbara in Western Australia are examples of multiple mining operations in areas where joint community development efforts may benefit all. It also makes sense for companies to consider supporting existing programs by providing additional skills and resources, where appropriate, rather than duplicating or competing with the efforts of others. Recent scholarship has found that the future management of cumulative impacts will require the positive collaboration of all major stakeholders—governments at all levels, all companies in the area and all affected communities (Barclay et al. 2012).

There is need for more strategic approaches by governments and companies to generate benefits both short and longer term for local communities. Infrastructure-sharing with a view to long term sustainable use offers potential benefits from a regional planning perspective. So too does corporate contribution through local investment, job creation, leadership capacity building and local rates and taxes. Leveraging between sectors for infrastructure, housing and jobs has potential long-term community benefits. (Haslam McKenzie et al. 2012a:3)

A strong leadership role will be required for governments in fostering the collaboration needed for the successful managing of shared benefits, to ensure that obligations and responsibilities are also shared between relevant companies and multiple stakeholders. Mining companies are urged to enter into genuine partnership' arrangements with other regional stakeholders, to the benefit of all, moving beyond outmoded notions of competitive advantage in the community development sphere.

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