Last month Queensland’s Somerset Council was the latest to add itself to a growing list of local governments banning mining.
Like similar moves before it the decision was simultaneously praised by environmental groups and damned by the mining industry. Queensland Resources Council CEO Michael Roche dismissed Somerset’s move as nothing more than "pre-election grandstanding".
He also said one must assume Somerset Council had "factored in losing its per capita share of state royalties". And part of his criticism made sense. The application process for miners should allow state governments to objectively weigh the competing interests of environmentalists and the industry.
But instead, especially in coal seam gas and coal regions, the process is being abused for political point-scoring.
But Roche’s argument over mining’s economic benefit missed the mark.
While there’s no doubt mining makes an incredible contribution to the economy, these bans have nothing to do with money.
If industry groups want to work with locals to develop our natural resources, they would do better to engage the community over the issues it most cared about.
Touting economic benefits to people who care primarily about the environment has led to a dead-end argument, with no progress made on the concerns of either party.
But more importantly council mining bans highlight a growing disconnect between local and state government mining policy.
When Somerset announced its move Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said she was "mystified".
But when Australian Mining spoke to Lismore Mayor Jenny Dowell, who presided over a similar ban in her northern NSW electorate, the reasons seemed clear.
While Governments are trying to take a balanced approach to mining, beneath the surface of their policy is much uncertainty. The NSW Government has extended its fracking moratorium, and it’s unclear whether the Government will support the technology. In Queensland coal and coal seam gas projects continue to win approval, but exclusion zones are also widening.
Neither Government has taken a stance behind the arguments of industry or environmentalists, and it’s out of this confusion that council mining bans are born.
Dowell told Australian Mining her council had acted because the State Government had not.
"We would have hoped they’d shown more leadership. It should not be up to individual councils to raise these concerns," she said.
For miners the local and state government confusion has lead to a regulatory process that is slow and has maximised uncertainty for investors.
For locals it’s left landowners uncertain about whether their livelihood and health is under threat.