Communities on the north coast and across the state no longer trust mining companies or the government to put agriculture and the environment ahead of their short-term commercial and political interests.
That is why, according to the NSW Greens, they have called for an independent authority to regulate mining development across NSW.
Ramping up the hot issues of coal and coal-seam gas mining in the lead-up to next month’s NSW election, the Greens have unveiled a policy for the establishment of an independent mining and petroleum authority to take over the oversight of all approved mining developments in NSW from the Department of Resources and Energy.
It comes in the wake of the routing of the pro-mining Newman Liberal-National party government in Queensland and investigations into serious environmental pollution by miners at Gloucester on the mid NSW coast, as well as revelations of large political donations to conservative parties by big mining companies.
NSW mining spokesperson Jeremy Buckingham said ‘people know just how powerful big mining corporations are when it comes to influencing governments, and have witnessed the revolving door between government, bureaucracy, lobbyists and the mining industry’.
‘The community no longer trusts mining companies or the government to put agriculture and the environment ahead of their short-term commercial and political interests… that is why NSW needs an independent authority to regulate mining and restore public trust,’ Mr Buckingham said.
Such an authority would ensure mining companies ‘meet their ongoing legislative and regulatory requirements’.
‘The Department of Resources and Energy has an inherent conflict between its role promoting and facilitating the extractive industries and its role monitoring and enforcing compliance,’ Mr Buckingham said.
‘This authority should have strong powers to obtain information, prosecute non-compliance and recover costs from mining companies.
‘The establishment of such an authority is imperative to the efficient, effective, transparent and accountable management of mining developments in the state.’
The functions of the Independent Authority would be to:
- act as an independent and accountable body to ensure that all authorised mining or petroleum activities comply with any legislative and regulatory requirements,
- co-ordinate the activities of all public authorities in respect of those requirements,
- establish and maintain a register of authorised mining or petroleum activities, and any conditions to which their authorisation is subject, and to make that register publicly available,
- investigate and report on alleged non-compliance with mining and petroleum legislation for the purposes of prosecutions or other regulatory action,
- review the regulatory framework for mining and petroleum operations and advise on its effectiveness in the public interest,
- educate public authorities, public officials and mining companies about their responsibilities with regard to authorised mining or petroleum activities,
- manage, and proactively release to the public, all data collected according to legislative and regulatory requirements associated with water management, petroleum extraction and mining.
Meanwhile, Mr Buckingham has accused the National Party of ‘selling their soul’ to coal seam gas company Santos and prominent climate denier Ian Plimer, after the release of political donation records by the Australian Electoral Commission.
He was referring to news that climate denier Ian Plimer donated $60,000 to the National Party and Santos donated $32,935 to the National Party and $155,525 to the Liberal Party.
‘It’s no wonder the National Party are peddling climate change denial, stifling renewable energy, and pushing coal seam gas when they are taking money from climate deniers and coal seam gas company Santos,’ Buckingham said.
‘People are sick of the decisions for donations culture eroding our democracy, but here we are again with money flowing to political parties who then just happen to make decisions that benefit those companies or individuals.
‘Santos have almost $200,000 to the coalition, and Nationals Leader, Andrew Stoner signed off on the MOU to declare Santos’ Narrabri coal seam gas project a ‘Strategic Energy Project’ with a fast-tracked approvals process.
‘Ian Plimer is one of the most outspoken climate science denialists in Australia, and the Nationals have been heavily involved in axing the carbon price and causing an 88 per cent fall in investment in renewable energy in 2014.
‘The issues of coal seam gas and climate change are too important for political parties to be accepting money from vested interests. The perception in the community will be that government decisions and party policies will be influenced by this money,’ he said.
Flurry of approvals
Mr Buckingham also said the flurry of coal mine approvals in NSW was negligent and represented a suicidal attitude to climate change, and that the planning system needed to reform to account for the cumulative impact of the emissions from when NSW coal was burnt.
Since September 2014, the NSW Government has approved 1.366 billion tonnes of coal mining.
- Rio Tinto Bengalla – 360 million tonnes
- YanCoal Moolarben – 384 million tonnes
- Glencore Mt Owen – 92 million tonnes
- BHP Mt Arthur – 128 million tonnes
- Shenhua Watermark – 268 million tonnes
- Glencore Bulga – 134 million tonnes
‘The flurry of coal mine approvals is negligent and represents a suicidal approach to climate change and the local environment,’ he said.
‘Approving 1.3 billion of tonnes of new coal mining is globally significant and undermines efforts to avoid dangerous climate change.
‘The government has the facts about climate change yet continues to make negligent decisions. It knows that coal is the number one cause of climate change, yet it continues to approve massive amounts of new coal mining.
‘The current government has driven NSW off a climate change cliff. It is the wrong way, we must go back, or face climate chaos.
‘It is disturbing that the flurry of mining approvals has occurred since premier Mike Baird appeared at NSW Mining dinner and committed to fast-track coal mining approvals.
‘At the dinner Mr Baird said: ‘I am tonight drawing a line in the sand on this. NSW must do better and I assure you we will’ and planning minister Pru Goward then provided “directions” to the Planning Assessment Commission,’ Mr Buckingham said.