That was then: Premier Barry O’Farrell in 2011 with (from left) Chris Holstein (Member for Gosford), Darren Webber (Member for Wyong), Barry O’Farrell (Premier), Alan Hayes (Australian Coal Alliance), Chris Spence (Member for The Entrance) & Chris Hartcher (Member for Terrigal & Minister for Energy). Photo: Supplied”Unjust” mining laws slammed by former judgesMore NSW news
The O’Farrell government has been criticised for breaking a key election promise by recommending approval of the Wallarah 2 coal mine on the central coast.
Before the 2011 state election, as opposition leader, Barry O’Farrell said a Coalition government would not approve the mine because of its impact on drinking water catchments.
However, the Department of Planning and Infrastructure has now recommended the project be approved, subject to strict conditions.
NSW Planning Minister Brad Hazzard said the Independent Commission Against Corruption hearings into mining approvals under the former Labor government had resulted in “seismic changes” in the way planning decisions were made.
“Three years of Eddie Obeid and mates at ICAC has underpinned a critical need for the integrity of an arms length independent decision-making process through the Planning and Assessment Commission,” Mr Hazzard said.
“The Green groups are playing dangerous political games if they are arguing in the face of ICAC recommendations supporting independent processes.”
Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Officer Pepe Clarke said the department’s decision was a “bitter blow” to the people of the central coast and to Premier O’Farrell’s credibility.
“Mr O’Farrell gave a personal guarantee before the election that, under his government, mining would not be permitted to occur in drinking water catchments, no ifs, no buts,” Mr Clarke said.
“At the time, Mr O’Farrell and Central Coast MP Chris Hartcher were even photographed together wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the words ‘Water, Not Coal’.
“The position they adopted helped the Coalition win key marginal seats of the central coast. It is time Mr O’Farrell’s government delivered on his promise by creating binding legal protections for water catchments to ensure proposals like Wallarah 2 cannot be approved.”
Mr Clarke said that if it proceeds, the Wallarah 2 project will undermine several waterways and result in the extraction of up to 5 million tonnes of coal a year for 28 years. He said the former Labor government rejected the project in early 2011 because of uncertainty around subsidence, unacceptable impacts on surface water quality and uncertainty around ecological and heritage impacts.
“The mine would operate for less than 30 years, but the damage mine subsidence could do to local aquifers and streams would be permanent,” Mr Clarke said.
“This was a point that Mr O’Farrell clearly understood and was prepared to campaign on when in opposition. Now he is in power he has the opportunity and a moral responsibility to ensure this project does not proceed.”
Planning and Infrastructure Executive Director Chris Wilson said the department’s assessment of the project was supported by independent studies and had found there were no environmental or amenity reasons to stop the project going ahead, subject to strict conditions around the protection of water supplies.
“After careful consideration of all potential environmental, social and economic impacts the department is satisfied that the economic benefits of the mine can be realised without significant adverse impact,” he said.
“The department found the company has comprehensively addressed those factors which underpinned the refusal of a separate application in 2011.”
Mr Wilson said the project would be in line with the NSW Aquifer Interference Policy and have minimal impact on underground water tables and would not adversely affect the region’s water supply.
He said there would be no significant subsidence impacts on the region’s water infrastructure or major water courses.
He said any discharges from above-ground facilities would be limited under any environmental protection licence and could be adequately controlled.
Recommended consent conditions had been developed in consultation with the NSW Office of Water and a range of other state and federal agencies.
The conditions included performance measures requiring the mine to have negligible or minor impacts on all major streams, creeks and rivers and the development of an extensive ground- and surface-water monitoring network.
“The Wallarah 2 project would generate a significant number of employment opportunities in the local region, including 300 direct jobs and an estimated 500 flow-on jobs in related industries,” Mr Wilson said.
“It would also have direct economic benefits to the state, including an estimated $134 million in taxes and $207 million in mining royalties.”