Mining industry defends environmental offsets to Senate

THE mining industry rejected claims that environmental offsets for major developments were a "magic pudding" calculation during a Senate inquiry hearing in Canberra on Tuesday.

Witnesses before the Senate hearing into offset policies on Tuesday included the Minerals Council of Australia and Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists.

The inquiry is examining the role offsets, or setting aside land for protection from development, play in the approval of major projects, including mines and port developments in Queensland.

But despite concerns raised by green groups including Lock the Gate of a mass failure of offset policies to actually protect valuable environmental areas, the mining industry said they remained an "essential option".

In its submission, the MCA wrote that offsets were an important tool for miners to ensure environmental protection when they were "constrained by the location of the target resource".

But the industry hit out accusations such policies were a "magic pudding" calculation, rather than based on science and expert opinion.

"Indeed, the Commonwealth offsets calculator was developed over an extended period in close consultation with academic experts, the CSIRO, a wide range of environmental non-government organisations and industry,' the submission reads.

"Nor do we accept assertions that offsets are an "excuse for Governments to tick and flick" projects.

"Central to government policy is the principle that environmental offsets cannot make a project with unacceptable impacts acceptable and an offset proposal is no guarantee that a project will be approved."

But the Wentworth Group said while it was an advocate of offsets, some vegetation had been "so extensively cleared that they have become irreplaceable".

While the scientists backed the use of offsets generally, it wrote that many "so-called offset schemes" failed the fundamental standards that setting aside land from development should maintain or improve that land.

"Too often, offsets are not satisfying this basic standard and are instead being used to trade long-term environmental damage for short-term economic benefit," the Wentworth submission reads.

The Senate inquiry is due to report back to parliament in June this year.

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