The Queensland Resources Council (QRC) says Queensland Ombudsman David Bevan’s report on the Regulation of Mine Safety in Queensland has raised serious questions over the State Government’s budget decision to transfer its funding to industry.
The report presents the findings of Bevan’s investigation into whether the Queensland Mines Inspectorate (QMI), the body responsible for mine safety regulation in Queensland, is adequately performing its role.
According to QRC chief executive Michael Roche, among a number of important findings by Bevan was a lack of substance to perceptions that the previously government-funded inspectorate was being “inappropriately influenced by industry”.
“One has to wonder why, after being handed a clean bill of health for this model in March, that the government decided to ignore this and declare, without any consultation, that the QMI should be paid for by industry,” he said.
“It’s a cornerstone of public policy that an effective industry regulator must not only be impartial but also be seen to be impartial.
“Try as we might to counter them, baseless perceptions of industry influence are only going to take root with the inspectorate funding becoming the direct responsibility of industry.”
Roche said the Ombudsman’s recommendations surrounding the gathering and timely reporting of relevant health and safety data by QMI reflected submissions made to the state government by the QRC in 2007.
The investigation sought to identify any defective administrative action on the QMI’s part and recommend improvements to its practices and procedures.
The report found that the Queensland Mines Inspectorate (QMI) has an incomplete picture of the performance of individual mines on safety, which could lead to safety concerns not being followed up.
Bevan said the investigation revealed that the Inspectorate’s regulatory practices are generally appropriate and in line with the objectives of the State’s mine safety legislation, but that improvements should be made in certain areas.
He found that the Inspectorate is not inappropriately influenced by the mining industry in performing its functions, but a reasonable perception exists that it is.
“This is mainly because of its location and reporting structure within the Department of Mines and Energy, which is the Department responsible for promoting and encouraging mining in Queensland,” Bevan said.
“To address this issue, I have recommended that the Inspectorate be operationally independent of the rest of the Department and that the head of the Inspectorate be authorised to report directly to the Minister on mine safety issues.”
Bevan said he was satisfied that the low number of prosecutions by the QMI did not mean it was not properly carrying out its role.
“However, the QMI’s failure to record much of its other compliance activity meant it could not effectively defend itself against these sorts of accusations,” Bevan said.
Bevan said that there were valuable lessons for the QMI in the ways other industry regulators had handled common safety problems, including in the aviation industry.
Click here to view the report.