Developing a Community Impacts Monitoring and Management Strategy: A Guidance Document for Australian Coal Mining Operations
The manual and the accompanying Sourcebook of Community Impact Monitoring Measures are outcomes of a project funded by the Australian Coal Association Research Program (ACARP). This project involved working with an operational coal mine in the Hunter Valley to trial a process that mines could use to review and improve their management of community impacts.
The manual reflects the learnings from this trial. It is targeted primarily at established operations, but the basic process can be readily adapted for use in the planning of new mines or the closure of old ones. It is recognized that some companies have developed toolkits, guidelines and training materials that perform a similar function to this manual (for example, the Socio-Economic Assessment Toolbox (SEAT) designed by Anglo American for world-wide application). However, the main report on the project, entitled Monitoring the Impact of Coal Mining on Local communities, can be accessed from the ACARP website: www.acarp.com.au
Large-scale mining operations can have both positive and negative impacts on a community. On the positive side of the ledger, mines can stimulate economic activity, create local employment opportunities, and deliver significant improvements in infrastructure and services. On the negative side, impacts can include: adverse effects on the lifestyle and amenity of nearby residents; strains in the local ‘social fabric’; damage to the natural resources of an area; and distortion of the operation of local housing and labour markets. Mines that fail to deal effectively with negative impacts, or with public perceptions of negative impacts, can jeopardize community support for the expansion and/or continuation of mining activity in the area, as well as damaging the reputation of the industry more generally. Conversely, mines that are seen as having a positive impact on a community are likely to experience:
fewer complaints and objections from ‘near neighbours’
better working relations with regulators and other relevant decision makers (e.g. local councillors)
a more positive reputation and higher levels of trust within the local community
fewer difficulties in obtaining planning approvals and negotiating access to new resources
greater ease in attracting and retaining employees (because the local community is more likely to be seen as a desirable place to live).
A further important reason for mines to take community impacts seriously is to meet the expectations of parent companies. A growing number of companies are requiring all of their sites to produce and regularly update some form of community or ‘social’ plan. It has also become common practice for companies to specify that sites report on their social performance in annual Health, Safety, Environment and Community (HSEC) ‘Sustainability’ reports. Looking to the future, mine managers are likely to be judged not just by their ability to maintain production and contain costs, but their sites’ performance in terms of the corporate ‘triple bottom line’.