Planning Minister Rob Stokes only has a few weeks to intervene to save Bulga from Rio Tinto's Warkworth coal mine expansion, or it will be too late, according to the Lock The Gate Alliance.
The project is now before the Planning Assessment Commission for the final time, and the Commission is expected to make a determination within weeks. Lock The Gate used its supplementary submission to the PAC yesterday (available here) to urge Commissioners to respect the 2013 judgement of the Land and Environment Court, which rejected the project because of its unavoidably massive impacts on the town of Bulga, and on the critically endangered Warkworth Sands Woodland.
“The Land and Environment Court has very clearly ruled that this mine expansion is against the interests of NSW. The only thing that will allow it to be approved in spite of all we know about its devastating impacts is very bad planning and mining policy,” said Lock The Gate's Hunter regional coordinator, Steve Phillips.
“The rules have been rigged to make sure Rio Tinto get the approval they want. The public, the community, the bushland are trumped by the demands of a multi-national mining company and right of the public to appeal the merits of that approval in court have been removed. This process is a sham, designed to get a coal mine approved at any cost,” said Phillips.
The Commission has conceded that “significant legislative and policy changes” since the 2013 court ruling have made the project “capable of being approved."
Lock The Gate argues in its submission to the PAC that these changes were introduced by the former Planning Minister in response to lobbying by Rio Tinto in the wake of the court judgement against them, and are regarded in the community as a gross and unfair betrayal of procedural fairness. The new Minister, Rob Stokes, has publicly stated that these unfair changes, in particular the Resource Significance amendment to the Mining SEPP, are now being reviewed with intent to restoring some semblance of fairness and balance, and that 'environmental and social considerations must be a foundation concern in any decision about resource use.'
"We congratulate Minister Stokes for recognising that the current mine-approval regime is completely unfair and unbalanced,” said Phillips. “It desperately needs to be fixed, and the Minister has indicated that he plans to fix it.
"But he needs to intervene now, or it will be too late to save the people and wildlife of Bulga," said Phillips.