A DECADE ago, our democracy took an interesting turn when NSW politicians decided to hand over their planning responsibilities to others.
Ten years on, the failure of successive Liberal/National Governments in NSW to create a comprehensive statutory regulatory framework has resulted in mission creep within bodies outside the political system which now poses a threat to our coal industry.
In 2008 a crisis of confidence in the state's planning approvals processes resulted in the then Labor government contracting-out its power to say 'yes' or 'no'.
As a result, significant projects across the state - including coal mining projects - are now determined by the Independent Planning Commission (IPC).
To be clear, my intention is not to criticise the people who serve on the IPC.
They are professional, skilled, experienced and respected.
But there is one thing they are not: elected.
It is right they use their expertise and real-life-experience to make recommendations to government based on the most stringent environmental criteria, but they should not be used as a scapegoat by the Berejiklian government.
The process of weighing up and balancing economic benefits against environmental impacts is not an exact science.
People bring different perspectives; and weigh-up benefit and detriment differently.
That's why elected representatives - those accountable to the people for their actions - should ultimately decide which projects should receive a green light.
Sure, they should be guided by the IPC's expert recommendations, but the buck should stop with elected representatives.
The current arrangements allow NSW State Ministers responsible for controversial projects to hide behind the IPC.
Indeed, I've heard ministerial criticism of IPC decisions and the reasons provided for its determinations.
However, I've seen no commitment on the part of the Berejiklian government to address the growing political impotence.
For example, questions of "intergenerational equity" - as contemplated in the recent Dartbrook Mine decision - may be legitimate questions for the IPC under current public interest considerations.
But surely these are issues for the Parliament, not unelected bodies and the government should make that clear.
Just as alarming is the increasing propensity of the NSW planning system to take account of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions which occur when our coal is consumed in other countries: so-called Scope 3 emissions.
This is an issue which first emerged during consideration of the Rocky Hill Mine project near Gloucester.
Judicial activism is what you can expect when governments create a policy vacuum.
The fact is, there will be those who will continue to demand Scope 3 emissions be considered as part of the approvals processes because they know it would slowly kill the coal industry.
This is why it's important for governments to make their policy position well known by making it clear they don't support the consideration of Scope 3 emissions in the approvals process.
Australia has rightly signed-up to an international agreement to reduce GHG emissions in our own country.
Across the globe we must all play our part in addressing the very real impacts of climate change.
But Australia has made no commitment to dictate to other countries how they reduce their own emissions.
If they need coal to be part of their path to further modernisation while finding other ways to meet their GHG emission reduction commitments, then that's their sovereign right.
Indeed, our international agreement specifically prevents double-counting which would allow two countries the capacity to both count carbon output reductions in their own ledgers.
Our customers in Asia remain keen to purchase Australia's relatively clean and efficient coal.
It's for them, not us, to consider any GHG impacts.
If the Berejiklian government thinks otherwise, its ministers should say so. If not, they should address the mission creep which is threatening local coal mining jobs.
Joel Fitzgibbon is the federal member for Hunter and the shadow minister for agriculture and resources
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To be clear, my intention is not to criticise the people who serve on the IPC. They are professional, skilled, experienced and respected. But there is one thing they are not: elected.