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Maintaining the social licence to operate

I trust that you all had a great Christmas and New Year break and wish you all the best for the year ahead.

At the Institute of Quarrying Malaysian CONEX conference, held in late October in 2015, I had the opportunity to present a paper entitled “The social licence to operate”. The theme of the conference was environmental and technological advances in quarrying. Paul Sutton presented his paper from the IQA’s national conference in Adelaide entitled “Smart Quarrying – Today’s Foresight, Tomorrow’s Global Advantage”.

The papers were well received and it was noted that the Malaysian quarrying industry is facing the same challenges that our industry is facing, operating in sensitive environments with increasing community expectations for our industry to minimise impact on the environment and the community and for better engagement with the community and other stakeholders.

The quarrying and heavy construction materials sector is critical to the $AUD60 billion building and construction industries in Australia, with the annual consumption of 160 million tonnes of quarry products. Although the key stakeholders including federal and state governments recognise the importance of the quarrying sector, we need industry and government to work together to ensure our industry maintains its social licence to operate.

The social licence to operate is the general level of acceptance of quarrying operations and industry by local communities and other stakeholders, including government. The social licence to operate varies over time, depending on industry and community behaviour and has to be renewed and earned every day with operations that are striving for best practice in environmental management and community engagement.

Communities now expect to be engaged at all stages of the quarry life cycle – including exploration, operation, rehabilitation and closure. Preparing and implementing community engagement plans that identify the impacted communities prior to the commencement will help to engage effectively.

Building trust and improving the credibility and reputation of the sector at both local, state and national levels requires a genuine effort from industry to reduce impacts to the environment and the community. Responding to concerns from the community that the quarry operation complies with standards and licence conditions does not give communities any comfort that they have been heard. Working with affected communities on understanding those concerns and working with them to reduce those impacts as low as practicable and in line with best practice for the quarrying sector will go a long way in maintaining the licence to operate.

Our industry needs to engage with local and state governments to ensure that land use planning strategies and decisions protect quarry operations and future resources from encroachment and urban development with appropriate buffer zones. A good example was the Victorian Government working with local government, industry and other stakeholders to develop a plan for Melbourne’s growth to the year 2050. All the quarry operations were identified in the plan and where possible a 500-metre buffer zone was put in place from the final extraction limit and future residential development.

To maintain the general level of acceptance of the quarrying industry by the community and other stakeholders is hard work and it does require effective community engagement, best practice quarry operations and land use planning that protects current operations and strategic resources from encroachment.

Whether it’s proposing a quarry expansion via the local council or even just continuing support/sponsorship of the local sporting club or youth activities in the community, I urge all IQA members to continue the good work they do with keeping their stakeholders informed about their operations and activities and ensuring that the industry maintains its social licence to operate.

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