ICAC mines and public interest test legislation is a welcome move

Published: November 21, 2013

The Lock The Gate Alliance has welcomed new laws introduced by NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell to allow the Government to cancel or refuse mining and petroleum licences on public interest grounds, including mine projects that are found to be corrupt.

The Premier introduced the Mining and Petroleum Legislation Amendment (Public Interest) Bill to NSW Parliament today and it has already been passed by both houses. The amendments allow the Government to cancel or refuse mining and petroleum licences on public interest grounds. The Premier said the amendments were designed to allow the Government to cancel the Doyles Creek and Mt Penny coal exploration licences, which have been found to be corrupt by the ICAC.

Lock The Gate's Hunter Coordinator Steve Phillips said: “This is a welcome move. The Doyles Creek and Mt Penny coal leases are opposed by local people in these areas, and are the result of corrupt behaviour by mining executives and a former Minister. They need to be scrapped.”

Bellata farmer and Lock The Gate board member Penny Blatchford welcomed the broader implications of allowing coal and gas leases to be be refused or cancelled on public interest grounds.

“'The introduction of a public interest test on coal and gas titles is very welcome”, said Ms Blatchford. “In communities such as ours, where 100% of residents have locked our gates to CSG companies, a genuine public interest test should see the end of CSG exploration in the area.”

“The public's interest here is to have our rich farmlands, water resources and rural communities protected, and the wishes of the community respected,” said Ms Blatchford.

Lock The Gate also urged the Government to adopt the 26 recommendations made by the ICAC in its October 2013 report Reducing the Opportunities and Incentives for Corruption in the State's Management of Coal Resources, which advocated an overhaul of the mining exploration lease system in NSW.

These recommendations include adopting a 'triple bottom line' approach to assess the social, environmental, and economic impacts of mining before a mining exploration lease is granted over a new area, and allow for the creation of mining no-go zones at the exploration stage.

“The existing system of allocating coal exploration leases is broken,” said Phillips. “Mining companies are given exploration leases before any studies have been done to assess the social, environmental, and economic impacts of opening up a new area for mining. There is no community consultation. The company sees the exploration lease as 'money in the bank', and exploration almost invariably leads to development of a mining project.

“It is reasonable to expect that public consultation and impact studies should be done before a coal exploration lease is granted over a new area. This would provide certainty to all parties,” said Phillips.

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