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Issue #1651      August 13, 2014

New Warkworth mine process must be quashed: residents

Bulga Milbrodale Progress Association (BMPA) and the Lock the Gate Alliance have called on NSW Planning Minister Prue Goward to cancel the assessment process for a proposed expansion of Rio Tinto’s Warkworth coal mine in the Hunter Valley.

The plans have already been rejected by two NSW courts, but Rio Tinto has resubmitted its application and the assessment process has started again. The NSW Planning Department, notorious for its close relationship with mining companies, have accepted public submissions on the “new” mine application.

“We have beaten Rio Tinto’s proposed mine in court twice, and we are determined to beat it again” said John Krey, Vice President of the BMPA. “Two senior NSW judges have ruled that expanding the Warkworth coal mine would do more harm than good. It would ruin our village and destroy the lives of local people, while nearly all of the mining profits would go overseas.

“But Rio Tinto will not respect the umpire’s decision, and they refuse to leave our community in peace. They have simply resubmitted their mining plans, and the Planning Department has accepted them. We urge Minister Goward to intervene in this process and restore natural justice for our community,” said Mr Krey.

“The Warkworth mine expansion has already been assessed, and it was deemed unacceptable,” said Steve Phillips, Hunter Valley coordinator for the Lock the Gate Alliance. “There is no reason to go through all of this again. The people of Bulga have earned a break. Why must we make submissions on a coal mine project that has already been through this same assessment process and been rejected in court?

“The Department needs to be reminded that it’s there to serve the people of New South Wales and that the public interest should be front and centre of their decision-making. They should not have even accepted this application.

“Mining companies say they want ‘certainty,’ but what they really want is a guarantee they will get their way every time. Having had the regulations rigged in their favour, Rio Tinto is trying for a third time to get this project through, with the backing of the Department of Planning. That’s not certainty, that’s not a fair go, that’s just bullying,” Mr Phillips concluded.

Meanwhile, AGL Energy made $98,800 in political donations while its application to develop a gasfield at Gloucester was being assessed by the NSW government, yet only around half of that amount was declared during the public assessment of the project, investigations by Groundswell Gloucester show.

The investigations show that AGL submitted a political donations disclosure in May 2010, as part of the public assessment process for its Stage 1 Gloucester Gas Project (‘Stage 1’) by the NSW government. That disclosure document failed to include a $11,000 donation to the Liberal Party’s Millennium Forum.

The investigations also show that AGL made a further $51,550 in political donations before Stage 1 was approved by the government, but failed to update the Planning Department with this information.

Since October 2008 it has been a requirement under the NSW EP&A Act that proponents of major projects submit political donations disclosures to the Planning Department, for all donations up to two years before an application is lodged. Proponents must also update the Department with any further donations made before a decision is made on the project, and the Department places all of these declarations on public exhibition. However, because the Stage 1 project development application was lodged in August 2008, two months before the legislation came into force, the AGL’s failure to fully disclose its donations was not illegal.

Groundswell Gloucester spokesperson Julie Lyford said: “The public has been misled. During the public assessment of the Gloucester gas project, we were told that AGL had made nearly $50,000 in political donations. The real figure was twice that.

“AGL have managed to get away with this due to a legal technicality, but that does not make the whole affair any less odious.

“We wonder what political donations were made during the government’s recent assessment of AGL’s application to conduct fracking near family homes in Gloucester. If that project was given ‘state significant’ status, as it should have been, AGL would be required to disclose their donations. But the government changed planning regulations to allow the fracking to be approved without that status.

“Our community has lost all faith in the fairness of this process,” said Ms Lyford. “This project needs to be frozen pending an open and transparent investigation into its approval process.”

“Why are resources companies still allowed to make political donations in NSW?” asked Steve Phillips, regional coordinator for the Lock the Gate Alliance.

“We banned donations from property developers because of the corrupting influence this has on project approvals. Well, mining and gas projects are far more valuable than property developments, and the company’s pushing them have very deep pockets. It’s time to ban political donations from mining and drilling companies.”

Next article – Yolngu in warning on leases

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