New documents, released under freedom of information laws, provide disturbing evidence that senior bureaucrats in the NSW government worked closely with Rio Tinto to push through a biodiversity offset package, at break-neck speed and with considerable irregularities, to help ensure the Warkworth open cut coal mine extension adjoining the town of Bulga in the Hunter Valley proceeds.
Mr John Krey, spokesperson for the Bulga Milbrodale Progress Association which has twice fought the mine extension in court and won, is calling on the Planning and Assessment Commission (PAC), which is due to decide the extension application by Friday, to postpone its decision and fully investigate the documents and what they reveal about the integrity of the process.
"The NSW government has already colluded with Rio Tinto by appealing our community’s wins in court and altered planning laws to sidestep the judgement. These documents show the government continues to betray us by working hand in hand with the mining giant to subvert what should be a transparent, independent and fair process. What hope does the community have?,” said Mr Krey.
"Both the Land and Environment Court and the Court of Appeal of the NSW Supreme Court have already rejected Rio Tinto’s plans because of the mine’s impacts on the environment and the tiny village of Bulga. Yet last year Rio Tinto turned around and resubmitted this almost identical project.
"Rio Tinto has just announced a 78 per cent increase in annual profit, but it’s pushing ahead with a project that will destroy our precious town, trash Aboriginal heritage and harm native wildlife.”
The previously secret documents yet again show collusion between Rio Tinto and senior officers of the Department of Planning and Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH):
- The biodiversity conditions for the project were drafted by the Director of Mining and Industry in the Department of Planning, not by an ecological expert at the OEH. They were swiftly approved six days later.
- A senior bureaucrat at OEH reassured Rio Tinto that, “We appreciate timeliness is of the essence. I understand there are various meetings between Rio Tinto and senior levels within government.”
- Under pressure from Rio Tinto, and well before OEH had been given sufficient information to properly scrutinise the offset package, an OEH Hunter Regional Manager reassured Rio Tinto that “the fundamentals were okay.”
- OEH certified the offset scheme in a rush after substantial pressure from Rio Tinto to sign-off on it before it was considered by the PAC, despite advice from NSW Planning it should only be issued after the PAC hearing.
Spokesperson for Lock the Gate, Georgina Woods said, “These new documents confirm pressure to have the mine approved has come from 'senior levels' of government. This smacks of the type of flawed assessment process that has marred coal mining approval processes in the past, and even led to intervention by ICAC.
"The NSW Government should immediately halt assessment of this project and come clean as to the full extent of their interactions with Rio Tinto" Ms Woods said.