Protecting Wilderness and National Parks

Miners to get political deals as arm’s length planning is rolled

“Yesterday the Sunday Telegraph broke the news that Premier Barry O’Farrell had appointed a Cabinet Subcommittee headed by Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner to ‘solve the problem of why vital coal and gas projects are not being approved’ (page 26),” Keith Muir director of the Colong Foundation for Wilderness said.

The Minister for Planning and Infrastructure, Brad Hazzard, recently said that “The challenge is to have an independent process at arm’s length from political influence”.  If these allegations prove correct, it means that powerful mining interests are again making deals with Ministers, if not for individual developments, then to ensure that all mining developments are approved by pushing through unsound mining policy”, said Mr Muir.

“This Subcommittee is a direct challenge to the arm’s length decision making by independent umpires.  Two proposals mentioned in the Telegraph article, Coalpac near Cullen Bullen and Mt Thorley Warkworth near Bulga, mining corporations made the mistake of investing in an unacceptable proposal.  No shame in that, but the lobbying that has followed is destroying public confidence in planning reform,” Mr Muir said.

The delays over the Coalpac proposal are the company’s own fault

“Coalpac proposal is an open-cut project that plans to use poor quality coal left over from underground operations as the feedstock for a local power plant.  Like the much bigger Mt Thorley Warkworth mine, the Coalpac proposal is next to a small community that would be subjected to high levels of pollution if the proposal is accepted.  It too is in a high conservation value area, but in this case the Office of Environment and Heritage seeks to reserve it as part of the Gardens of Stone,” he said.

“Coalpac muffed its chances at the initial Planning and Assessment Commission Inquiry that came down against it.  It was then allowed to submit a ‘preferred project report’ to the Department of Planning and Investment in April this year.  Rumours are that this revised proposal was also unacceptable to the Department.  As a result, Coalpac has been allowed to make further major amendments to its proposal after senior Departmental bureaucrats privately visited the proposal area with Coalpac representatives”, Mr Muir said. 

“So political back door lobbying continues as Planning bureaucrats flounder around trying not to become politicised while their recommendations are twisted.  Both the Coalpac and Mt Thorley Warkworth mine proposals are now a long way south arm’s length decision making.  The recently advertised planning reforms to benefit mining interests will make the community conflicts over mining far worse and must be rejected if the community is to have any confidence in planning processes”, said Mr Muir.

For more information contact: Keith Muir, (02) 9261 2400 (wk) or 0412 791 404 (mob)