THE first thing we can be sure of, when it comes to talk about how various NSW Government departments have administered mining titles, applications, licenses and leases, is that the processes have been less than rigorous.
The second thing is that NSW taxpayers have probably lost untold millions of dollars because of it.
The third thing is that mining companies have been the beneficiaries.
When the department initiated a process known as the “Clearance Project” in April, 2017 it counted 1481 mining applications lodged before September, 2016 – with some as far back as 1998 – where NSW Government departments tasked with mining oversight had lost track of the basics of one of the most significant industries in the state.
The department’s reliance on paper, the filing of documents in boxes, and the lack of comprehensive systems meant mines that filed renewal documents on time could and did operate for years on old conditions, because no one was checking.
It was no surprise when senior department representatives, the NSW Government and Muswellbrook Shire Council discovered in July, 2017 that mining company Ridgelands Resources had a condition in its 2013 consent requiring it to pay $5 million to establish a community fund.
If you don’t have a rigorous and consistent means of filing, collating, updating and accessing information, then cases like Ridgelands will occur. The ongoing problem with Ridgelands is that it is clear some lower-ranking department employees were aware of the community fund, and the department did not comply with its own conditions to monitor the fund’s progress.
The NSW Government continues to be pressed on the Ridgelands case in the Newcastle Herald and NSW Parliament because the public has a right to know how and why that fund remained a secret for nearly five years, and how and why it was reduced to $500,000 before the council’s Supreme Court case to get what the community was entitled to. Acceptance of an enforceable undertaking rather than prosecuting Ridgelands simply adds to community concerns.
The department has advised the “Clearance Project” ended in March, 2018 with 127 outstanding applications because “they required the proponent to demonstrate development consent, submission of surveys or other approvals”. That so many mines remain on that list is disturbing. That some are having trouble providing development consent is even more so.
The “Condition Mapping Project” was launched in October, 2017 when the Ridgelands case proved NSW Government departments tasked with regulating 5000 mining and exploration titles did not even have a consolidated register of the conditions. That is an alarming statement in the digital age, and coming long after an historic mining boom has peaked.
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