NSW Minerals Council head Stephen Galilee says the industry is hoping for "serious reform" out of the NSW government's review of the Independent Planning Commission, announced in late October after the commission rejected the Bylong open-cut near Mudgee.
Speaking in Newcastle on Friday at the Hunter Business Chamber's final mining lunch for 2019, Mr Galilee gave an optimistic account of the industry's position, saying production and employment were up, with coal royalties to the government "high". Although he said he wasn't going to mention all the industry's challenges, he outlined an advertising campaign being used to engage public opinion.
Asked whether the campaign - and Mr Galilee's 30-minute speech - was ducking the problem of climate change by not mentioning it, Mr Galilee said he did not "accept that". He said the minerals council had "a very strong policy in relation to climate change and most of the major players in the industry are very active in that space".
Summarising the state of the industry, Mr Galilee said NSW coal exports were higher than in 2012 when "an activist blueprint titled 'Stopping the Coal Boom' received much attention".
He said NSW export volumes had been at or near record levels for the past four years, with another record tonnage possible this year. This is in line with the latest export figures for Newcastle which indicate likely export of more than 165 million tonnes this year, compared with 159 million tonnes last year.
Mr Galilee said coal mining jobs across NSW had risen by more than 2500 since 2017 to hit 22,000, with 1000 of the extra positions in the Hunter. Coal royalties to the state government were continuing at "high levels".
Against this, Mr Galilee said the planning system had become "a barrier to investment and jobs in NSW". Assessment times had essentially doubled in the past five years.
"As the system now operates, the NSW government has effectively outsourced key economic decisions to an unelected part-time panel that is not required to assess or determine applications in accordance with government policy," Mr Galilee said.
He said projects should be assessed against "known and established policies: and that the "thorough assessment conducted by the Department of Planning, in liaison with other departments and agencies, will mean something".
Put simply, the premier and the treasurer must take control of the NSW economy back from an unelected part-time panel that seems able to make whatever decisions it wants, despite existing policies, regulations, rules and guidelines determined by the elected government.Stephen Galilee on the Independent Planning Commission
"However the process has become a lottery with final outcomes at the mercy of the views of whichever three of the 29 part-time IPC commissioners are selected to assess and determine each project application," Mr Galilee said.
He said the approvals process was a "lottery", depending on "the views" of any three of an "unelected part-time panel of 29 commissioners" who assessed each project.
He said the IPC seemed "able to make whatever decision it wants, despite existing government policies, regulations, rules and guidelines.
"It's a recipe for inconsistency and uncertainty, the mortal enemies of investment attraction," Mr Galilee said.
He said the IPC's decisions on Bylong and the Dartbrook underground mine "ignored advice" from the planning department and other government agencies that they should be approved. The United/Wambo approval came with a condition on so-called Scope 3 emissions that was imposed against the government's direction.
Scope 3 emissions in this case are the emissions from Australian coal when it is consumed overseas.
Although Mr Galilee did not mention it, the Berejiklian government has moved to limit consideration of Scope 3 emissions through a Environmental Planning and Assessment Amendment (Territorial Limits) Bill 2019, introduced into parliament by Planing Minister Rob Stokes on October 29.
The bill is yet to be formally debated, but Mr Stokes told parliament: "The bill principally clarifies that development consent conditions can only be imposed if they relate to impacts occurring within Australia or its external territories."
If approved in this form, the bill would amend the act to stop Scope 3 emissions being considered in NSW planning approvals.
Mr Galilee also pointed to a recent mixup when a mining extension at the Rix's Creek open-cut was approved - and then retracted less than four hours later - because of a mixup over a closing date for public comment. The approval was subsequently given, in a process the minerals council described as "shambolic".
Deputy Premier John Barilaro led a charge against the IPC and its chair, Dr Mary O'Kane, at the minerals council's annual conference at Cessnock in August.
In late October, the government announced a review of the IPC, which Mr Galilee yesterday welcomed while warning it "must not" become an excuse "to avoid doing anything meaningful" in the way of reform.
The review is being conducted by the Productivity Commissioner, former NSW auditor general Peter Achterstraat.
Public submissions closed on November 15 and have not been public, with the review to be handed to Mr Stokes by mid-December.
Mr Galilee said the review was a chance for the government to show that NSW was "really open for business".
"Let's hope it leads to meaningful reform before more investment and jobs are lost," he said.
"Put simply, the premier and the treasurer must take control of the NSW economy back from an unelected part-time panel that seems able to make whatever decisions it wants, despite existing policies, regulations, rules and guidelines determined by the elected government."
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