The research, which is being undertaken by Melbourne-based Monash University, involves an on-line community survey targeting mining communities (including members of the general public living in the vicinity of mining activity), mining employees, industry regulators and local councils, and the university’s own staff and students.
In addition to their attitudes, the survey collects information on participants’ knowledge of mining and reclamation processes.
Dr Kamila Svobodova of Monash’s Department of Civil Engineering, who is leading the study, said about 300 people had completed the survey so far, with the goal being to recruit 1000 participants from across all Australian states.
“The main purpose of this community survey is to understand how Australians’ attitudes toward mining and reclamation are related to their personal characteristics and experience, and how their knowledge of mining and reclamation can affect these attitudes,” Svobodova explained, adding that the relationship between the mining industry and society was still a “very sensitive and complicated issue”.
“The study findings will be used to inform the mining industry, government and the public about ‘what constitutes a social licence to operate’ for the mining industry in Australia.”
Specifically, the research aims to develop an understanding of Australian attitudes at an international level, and will involve a direct comparison with attitudes expressed in Europe.
“We are preparing the same questionnaire in the Czech Republic in co-operation with the Czech University of Life Sciences in Prague,” Svobodova stated.
Svobodova said the reclamation techniques used in the two countries were similar, and that she believed the key reason for the difference in attitudes between Czechs and Australians was due to the fact that the Czech Republic’s mining reclamation techniques were more established.
“Czech reclamation has more than 50 years’ [history] and people can see that the post-mining landscape is ‘green’ again and provides many benefits to them,” she explained. “Moreover, the Czech Republic is very densely populated – the average distance between towns and villages is only 1.5km – and almost everyone there has practical experience with mining; smaller or larger surface mines are in the neighbourhood of each town or village.
“All [of the Czech Republic’s] mines are in populated areas, so there is a bigger pressure to reclaim them in ‘for community’ ways,” Svobodova added.
The survey will close in December this year, with the research findings scheduled to be published in January or February 2016.
Commenting on how the results might benefit the industry, Svobodova said they would help clarify the society/mining industry relationship. “For example, if we find out that knowledge of mining is strongly related with attitudes towards the mining industry, it indicates that it is possible to shape attitudes via knowledge,” she explained.
“Increasing the general public’s knowledge of mining could lead to more positive attitudes towards mining. This could be a very important and useful finding for the industry.”
Svobodova added that after the survey concluded, the university planned to continue research in the area, with a focus on specific mining regions, mining communities and their problems.
“I would like to aim my future research more [towards] public participation in the mine reclamation/rehabilitation process,” she said. “In my opinion, the importance of community-aimed research has been neglected – in general, not only in mining issues. Community research should be supported [as much] as technology research.”
More information on the study is available at eng.monash.edu.au