AT the very least the Department of Planning does a poor job of terminating the services of its senior managers.
As is clear now, after four executives or senior managers have spoken to the Newcastle Herald since November 20, the end is sudden, no explanations are given, and they follow periods during which the employees have raised serious issues about alleged corruption, maladministration and risks.
The department insists there is no connection between the employees raising concerns and them being shown the door, but it is hard to escape the idea there is a connection.
It could be just appalling people management on the department’s part, by allowing very senior employees to leave without sitting them down and explaining why their allegations are misguided, muddle-headed or just plain wrong. But those conversations haven’t happened in the case of the four people who have provided evidence to the Herald of what they are alleging. So they are left with no response to their allegations and questions about what that might mean.
People of principle do not stay quiet when they suspect something might be wrong. And the unfortunate recent state history of corruption and coal mining means the community is right to be on the alert.
There have been significant problems since the Department of Planning took on responsibility for the Division of Resources and Geosciences in April 2017, and with it responsibility for the administration of mining in NSW.
The transfer occurred after some tumultuous years in which the state’s woeful oversight of its coal assets was on display during NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption hearings into corrupted Hunter coal exploration licence decisions.
Almost as soon as the Department of Planning took on its new job it was forced to deal with the case of mining company Ridgelands Resources and its attempts to reduce a community fund of $5 million to $500,000. Department emails show clearly that at the senior level there were huge knowledge gaps about what information it had on conditions of mining titles, where that information was held, and the systems that were supposed to ensure mining in NSW is now administered well.
The department responded poorly when challenged by the Herald about department involvement in the Ridgelands case. After many months it was finally forced to confirm the wife of a Hunter coal miner had a key role in letting Ridgelands believe the community fund condition had been varied from $5 million to $500,000.
Allegations raised by the first whistleblower, Rebecca Connor, are now being considered by ICAC. Department Secretary Carolyn McNally last week announced an independent review of matters raised by the Herald. Calls for a judicial inquiry into the department are not unreasonable.