THE NSW government would never treat workers in Sydney in such a way. Or would it?
On Tuesday, 500 hardworking miners from Anglo American’s Drayton South mine in the Upper Hunter woke to the news that their jobs had been abandoned by the NSW government. The decision to refuse approval of the Drayton South mine proposal was splashed across the front page of a Sydney newspaper.
The decision, made by the Planning Assessment Commission, an independent NSW statutory body, had apparently been leaked to a single media outlet, calling into question the independence of the process, and adding insult to injury for those directly affected, who had to wait until 10am the day after the leak to read the official decision on a government website.
The NSW government usually goes to great lengths to enunciate the independence and transparency of the Planning Assessment Commission process. However, the way this decision was announced was far from transparent and far from independent.
It was, in a word, reprehensible – an insult to the workers of Drayton and their families.
So far there has been no explanation or apology from the NSW government.
And not a single word of sympathy for those facing unemployment as a result of this poor decision.
The government has washed its hands of the decision, and the workers of Drayton.
Just like the way it was announced, the decision itself is wrong.
The Drayton mine has been in operation for more than 30 years. It was seeking to extend its life by another two decades, on its own land, and within its own mining lease. The planning application had been in the assessment process for over four years. During that time the proposed extension had been amended and reduced to accommodate the concerns of others.
The NSW Department of Planning assessed the project as being in the public interest, and recommended its approval. The project was also supported by the local chamber of commerce, the CFMEU, and of course the hundreds of people working at the mine itself.
Over the past two years more than 2500 Hunter coalminers have lost their jobs. Unemployment in the region has jumped to more than 8per cent. Communities are hurting. Local businesses are also feeling the impact.
In the midst of this regional economic downturn, here was a project wanting to protect more than 500 mining jobs, in a mining region. But instead, a brutal blow has been dealt to 500 Hunter workers and their families. Hundreds of local small businesses and suppliers in the region will also feel the impact. It is a devastating blow for the Upper Hunter economy.
This decision and the way it was announced highlights the problem at the heart of the Planning Assessment Commission process. Delegating state significant decisions to an unelected body is a failure of leadership from the NSW government. It’s an attempt to avoid the responsibility that comes with being in office, and it’s a betrayal of the working people who will have to live with the consequences of these poor outcomes.
At the same time, the government is happy to approve its own infrastructure projects, bypassing the commission completely. It’s a double standard that makes a mockery of the confidence they claim they have in the process.
The decision also makes a mockery of the claim that NSW is open for business, and sends a very damaging message about the future of NSW as a place for investment. This has serious ramifications for a region like the Hunter that needs job-generating investment in big projects to ensure the long-term health of the local economy.
The government knows the planning system is broken, but has failed to fix it. In fact, since being elected, the NSW government has made the system worse.
The time has come for the NSW government to find its spine. Step up for the 500 workers of Drayton to save their jobs. Or at least visit the site and explain to them why their jobs are going.
An apology for putting them through this whole sorry saga is also due.
Stephen Galilee is the chief executive officer of the NSW Minerals Council