Documents obtained by Lock the Gate under freedom of information laws reveal that the independent commission charged with making decisions about major gas projects in NSW conducted a secret trip with Santos to tour it’s CSG gasfield and LNG export terminal.
Lock the Gate alleges that the clandestine tour by the NSW Planning Assessment Commission was outside the scope of its responsibilities and in breach of its code of conduct.
“This is another appalling example of the gas industry getting a special deal and exclusive access to decision makers behind closed doors, while the community is left out in the cold” said Lock the Gate Coordinator, Georgina Woods.
The documents reveal that the Planning Assessment Commission began organising the trip while the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for a highly controversial Santos CSG project near Narrabri in North West NSW was still on exhibition for public feedback.
The EIS received a record 23,000 submissions, almost all of which were objections.
The Planning Assessment Commission is expected to be the final decision maker on the Santos Narrabri Gas Project. However, it is only supposed to assess projects after they have been specifically referred to it by the Planning Minister in a formal process. That process has not yet commenced for the Narrabri Gas Project.
“We were shocked to discover the Commission had sought out a one-sided briefing and field trip with Santos before the public had even had a chance to finish commenting on the Environmental Impact Statement for the Narrabri Gas Project” Ms Woods said.
“This act of bad faith by the Commission has cruelled any trust the community might have had that objectors to Santos’ gasfield at Narrabri will be given fair hearing.
“While 22,000 people were patiently reading the Environmental Impact Statement, researching the risks of CSG and writing objections to the gasfield, the body that would decide whether it goes ahead was organising a one-sided secret briefing with the proponent that has hopelessly compromised it.
“The Code of Conduct for the Commission requires it to act transparently and fairly.
“It’s brutally clear that the Commission has broken that code by making secret trips to Queensland and seeking out the one-sided views of a CSG company, without hearing from anyone that has been hurt or damaged by this industry” she said.
If the PAC holds a public hearing on the Narrabri Gas Project in the future, then the rights of communities to challenge the merits of the project in the Land and Environment Court will be lost.
“We’re calling on the Minister for Planning to act urgently to address this situation - we want a firm commitment that communities will retain the right to to challenge the Narrabri Gas Project in the Land and Environment Court.
“The community now doesn’t have any faith in the impartiality of the Commission as the decision-maker on the Narrabri Gas Project - only full access to the court can assure us that there will be an independent, unbiased decision on this risky project” Ms Woods said.
The documents are available for viewing via this link: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/ftr08jf60v5a24u/AABNXS48ScgojO7zlmnBEIf1a?dl=0