Senator calls for laws to reform Australian mining in Africa

South African platinum mine.

The Australian government must improve oversight of its overseas mining sector, according to civil society groups and an Australian senator who is considering proposing new legislation in response to the first installment of ICIJ’s latest investigation.

The Australian Greens party called on the government to introduce new laws to stop abuses by mining companies and asked authorities to reopen an investigation into the most notorious case of human rights abuses linked to a mining company.

“With 183 Australian-owned companies operating in Africa and numerous cases of workers being killed on the job, local people losing their land and their livelihood and massive offshore profit shifting, the federal government has a responsibility to assist affected communities," said Greens international aid and development spokeswoman Senator Lee Rhiannon (New South Wales), in response to what she called a “shocking” ICIJ investigation.

"The [Prime Minister Tony] Abbott government should abide by its international human rights obligations that require countries to regulate how companies operate abroad,” said Senator Rhiannon, who is considering proposing a new law that would crack down on corporate crimes abroad.

ICIJ’s investigation, Fatal Extraction, reveals new details of Australia’s mining presence in Africa and corporate links to hundreds of deaths and injuries that would never be tolerated in better-regulated nations. It is one of the largest ever Africa-based journalist collaborations and brings together nearly 30 reporters and editors from four continents, most of them from Africa.

Sharan Burrow, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) General Secretary and former president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), said Australian mining investment in Africa soared during the mining boom but “tragically failed” to bring development or sustainable jobs.

“Australian companies are amongst those that have not fulfilled safety standards, respected employment arrangements nor paid decent remuneration for African workers,” said Burrow.

“Where domestic laws are inadequate to control this lawlessness, then Australia, indeed all nations, must ensure that equal treatment and responsibility for due diligence demanded by the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights is a legal requirement for companies operating beyond their borders,” said Burrow.

A mining expert with Oxfam Australia, Serena Lillywhite, told ICIJ that the Australian government should do more to regulate mining companies operating in Africa.

“Fatal Extraction has shown that for too long Australian mining companies active in Africa have really flown under the radar, and there has clearly been inadequate oversight in the countries of Africa where they have a huge presence,” said Lillywhite, who recently reported on villagers in Mozambique forced from to make way for a coal mine owned by Rio Tinto.

“The Australian government really needs to step up and have far greater oversight of the activities of Australian companies and to ensure that those companies are conducting business in standards they would be expected to conduct within Australia.”

In the case of Kilwa, a town in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in which at least 73 people were killed by Congolese military with the assistance of trucks, planes and rations of former Perth-based Anvil Mining Limited, Lillywhite said, “the Australian government really needs to ensure the families of the victims have their day in court and have an opportunity to have access to justice.

“And it needs to happen quickly.”

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