The mining industry will be ‘picking up the pieces’ of its social licence to operate in regional and remote areas of Queensland if it does not do more to avoid the spread of COVID-19, a local MP warns.
Member for Traeger Robbie Katter has been pushing to quarantine North, North West and South-Western Queensland from the rest of the state, with the majority of Queensland’s COVID-19 cases still confined to the heavily populated south-eastern corner.
But he is especially concerned about the potential for mine workers coming into North West Queensland from multiple sources to bring the virus into the region.
Mr Katter believes the State Government and the industry should have acted sooner to enforce strict protocols regarding those movements.
“I’m sure that some of the operators have been good corporate citizens and have greatly reduced the risk of spreading COVID-19 by implementing some protocols but I’m also sure there would be people looking the other way on risks that are entering the site in order to keep operations going,” he said.
“At the point that some miners (with COVID-19) present to one of our rural and remote hospitals that are already grossly under-resourced to handle something of this magnitude compared to the tertiary hospitals in cities, I will be absolutely furious.”
He said he understood there had been three cases in the last fortnight where mining industry employees who had very recently been overseas had come into the region to work without any period of isolation.
Mr Katter called for strict testing (possibly temperature) of everyone about to come onto a mine site and more scrutiny about where they had come from.
He said also anyone entering a site should be coming on the same bus or plane for the purposes of monitoring rather than arriving via different modes of transport.
“The mining industry stands a real risk here – they will be picking up the pieces of social licence to operate in these remote areas if they don’t handle this properly,” he said.
The industry’s proximity and interaction with the especially vulnerable Indigenous communities was ‘a whole other can of worms’, he said.
“Indigenous communities are a tinder box for the lethal impact of the COVID-19 virus. There is a lot of interaction in that space,” Mr Katter said.
While mining had been earmarked as an essential industry, the sector should not take its status for granted and be complacent about the risks that continued operations posed for host communities, he said.