Mining assessments to be beefed up after scathing review

Minister slammed by independent planning body: Pru Goward. Photo: Wolter Peeters

Minister slammed by independent planning body: Pru Goward. Photo: Wolter Peeters

The state government will beef up its assessment of mining applications after a scathing review of its handling of a controversial proposal on the Central Coast.

The Planning Minister, Pru Goward, said on Monday her department would commission ‘‘separate expert economic analysis’’ for all future applications for major mining projects.

The announcement follows a report last week by the state's independent planning body, which slammed Ms Goward’s department for uncritically accepting the proponent’s claims about the benefits of the proposed Wallarah 2 mine north of Wyong.

South Korean miner Kores is behind the $800-million dollar project. In 2012 it retained Nick Di Girolamo, the man whose $3000 gift of a bottle of wine triggered the resignation of then premier Barry O'Farrell, to lobby the Liberal government to support the project.

The Planning Assessment Commission (PAC), which found the project had merit if it met strict conditions, said the planning department’s process for assessing Kores’s proposal was ‘‘simply not credible’’.

The department, which had recommended that the mine be approved, had relied on ‘‘thoroughly discredited’’ estimates about the jobs it would generate, and claims about royalties that were ‘‘almost certainly an over-estimate,’’ the PAC said.

‘‘No attempt has been made [by the department] to address the specific points raised by the critics of the economics assessment, yet these points appear to be soundly argued and entirely plausible,’’ it said.

Ms Goward said she had noted the PAC’s concerns, but added that its ‘‘fearless independence’’ was proof the system was working.

The new economic analysis for mining proposals would be included and referenced in the department's reports to the PAC, said Ms Goward.

‘‘I trust this will help address the PAC’s concerns,’’ she said.

But the new rules will not apply to existing proposals, including the Wallarah 2 project.

Rod Campbell, the Australia Institute economist who had challenged many of the claimed benefits of the mine, said ‘‘in the absence of more detail,’’ the new approach ‘‘sounds like a good thing’’.

"I’ll still certainly be taking a close interest in economic assessment of projects that I've had a look at and that community groups ask me to look at," he said.

NSW Minerals Council CEO Stephen Galilee said it had ‘‘repeatedly’’ called for NSW Treasury to be given a formal role advising the government on mining applications. ‘‘And we hope this new process will facilitate that,’’ Mr Galilee said.

Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham has also called on the minister to repeal the ‘‘pro-mining’’ state planning policy introduced under disgraced former resources minister Chris Hartcher, which requires decision makers to give weight to the economic benefits of a proposal.

Ms Goward said she was considering the PAC’s comments about the policy.

‘‘At the end of the day we need to strike the right balance between economic considerations such as jobs, and community and environmental concerns,’’ she said.

The PAC released its report into Wallarah 2 on Thursday, the same day the NSW Land and Environment Court delivered a significant blow to the project.

The court found the application could not be determined by the PAC until the NSW Aboriginal Land Council had given its consent because it covered part of Darkinjung land.

And the corruption watchdog may take a closer look at the Wallarah 2 proposal.

During the inquiry into Liberal Party donations, junior counsel assisting the Independent Commission Against Corruption, Greg O'Mahoney, said that ‘‘at present there is no intention for any submissions to be made in respect of Wallarah 2 for this inquiry" but added ‘‘I can't speak for future inquiries and I really can't say any more than that’’.

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