The two-edged sword of regulation

Regulation. It?s a word that haunts quarry operators, equalling bureaucracy, time, money and effort ? long before physical activity occurs at a site. Wouldn?t it be so much easier if operators could proceed without having to jump through legal, political, environmental and bureaucratic hoops?

Be careful what you wish for. An unregulated quarry industry sounds wonderful in an ideal world. But as a cursory inspection of our monthly news wrap-up shows, if operators could proceed unfettered by regulation then the results could be a nightmare for the industry.

A wave of outrage has erupted in Central America after a local construction company in Belize levelled one of that country?s oldest Mayan pyramids for recycled aggregate. Sadly, this is par for the course in a country where cultural heritage regulations are non-existent. There is no doubt that the offending construction company D-Mar Construction, which is owned (surprise, surprise) by an influential local politician, also knew exactly what it was doing when it proceeded to tear down an ancient structure located on privately owned land.

In Malaysia, Hap Seng Building Materials has come under fire after blasting at its Kukusan Quarry rained flyrock on a neighbouring settlement and injured 12 people. The quarry does not appear to be at fault because the damaged housing should not have been within the quarry boundary. Nevertheless, this incident has galvanised the local environment protection association?s campaign against the quarry.

Other international examples should make you shake your head. India in recent years has dismally failed to discourage illegal and black market quarrying activities which impact on the health, safety and well-being of local communities and exploit women and child labour. We even reported a few years ago how the Taliban on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border was funding its vendetta against US and Afghan forces from illegal quarrying operations. These are all examples of how anarchical unregulated quarrying is ? and they do little to shore up the reputation of the industry in countries where it is ethically and socially responsible and complies with regulation.

In Australia, the mining and quarrying industries have long felt they are chafing under the shackles of too much regulation from local, state and federal governments. Not only are state and territory governments? royalties and levies rising as traditional revenue streams decline but the amount of red and green tape required to satisfy local, state and federal regulations is expensive, time-consuming and frustrating for many operators. Consultant Chris Prowse, of CK Prowse & Associates, has previously written in Quarry that even simple applications for the extensions of existing sites are nowadays being frustrated by governments and bureaucrats unwilling to tamper with public sentiment.

Will applications to rehabilitate a former Pioneer quarry as a landfill site in Arthurs Seat, southeast of Melbourne, Boral?s proposed Reedy Creek Quarry on the Gold Coast and an application to revive the dormant Goonumbla gravel pit in central west New South Wales ever come to fruition? The three applications are reasonable, the economic rationales behind them sound and perhaps they could indeed be scuttled at the bureaucratic level because of rising resentment from locals. But without the regulatory process to guide them, could they even proceed at all?

Regulation is a two-edged sword but it?s the price the quarrying industry pays for its social licence to operate. There is no doubt that in Australia we are over-governed and that much could be done to simplify regulation and reduce costs for the sector. But the alternative of an unregulated world for the quarrying industry is not attractive for business.

If legitimate, reasonable proposals and applications can draw floods of community protests and allegations, then imagine the hostility to the industry if you could just knock down a cultural heritage site or encroach on neighbouring homes? Regulation ironically protects the industry?s reputation as much as it protects other stakeholders.


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