Lock the Gate Alliance is calling on the NSW Minister for Resources to release the details of agreements signed with mining company Shenhua Australia after obtained freedom of information laws by the Lock the Gate Alliance raised further questions around the renewal of the exploration licence for the Shenhua Watermark coal mine on the Liverpool Plains near Gunnedah.
The Minister denied in parliament yesterday that he had misled parliament over the issue, but has refused to release the deeds.
The documents obtained by the Lock the Gate Alliance:
State that the deeds of agreement that were signed by the NSW Government and Shenhua included a requirement for the government to renew the exploration licence (EL) 7223;
Reveal the NSW Government back-flipped on a proposal to require Shenhua to contribute money to a Community Benefits Fund after opposition from the mining giant.
A Briefing for Approval signed by Minister for Resources Don Harwin in July stated that the reason the decision to renew Shenhua’s exploration licence had an urgent deadline was ‘To meet the requirement under the deeds of settlement for the government to renew EL 7223 as soon as reasonably practicable’.
This contradicts what the Minister told Parliament in September last year, and reiterated yesterday, denying there was an agreement with the State Government of NSW to agree to an extension of just under half the exploration licence area.
The documents also reveal an abandoned plan to require the company to establish a community benefit fund. An email from the Acting Secretary of Resources and Geosciences Australia to the Minister’s staff indicated a requirement for such a fund to be included with the renewal decision, but it was not adopted.
Lock the Gate spokesperson, Georgina Woods said:
“There are serious unanswered questions about this dubious decision hanging around the Minister like a bad smell.
“The only way to clear the air is for the Minister to release the secret Shenhua deeds and tell the people of NSW why the Government gave a mining company a quarter of a billion dollars and got nothing in return.
“These new documents indicate that someone in the Government thought the Shenhua deeds bound the Minister to renew the company's coal exploration licence. If these secret deeds are innocuous, let him release them so the people of NSW can judge for ourselves.
“The community also deserves an urgent explanation as to why Shenhua was allowed to bully its way out of contributing money to a community benefit fund.
“Shenhua was granted $262 million dollars as a gift by the NSW Government in return for relinquishing 50% of their licence, despite a standard statutory requirement to relinquish that amount without recompense.
“It is beggars belief that Shenhua refused to contribute just $2 million to a community benefit fund after they had just been granted an extraordinary $262 million in taxpayer funds,” she said.