LOCK the Gate Alliance has redoubled calls for a Special Commission of Inquiry into mining in NSW after Hunter whistleblower allegations and a tribunal decision on Wednesday backing the withholding of key documents on the controversial Shenhua coal mine.
“The clear air of public scrutiny must be applied to mining decisions. This cloak of secrecy is damaging,” said Lock the Gate spokesperson Georgina Woods after weeks of renewed controversy that included questions in NSW Parliament and referrals to the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
On Wednesday the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal rejected Lock the Gate’s appeal for documents about the NSW Government decision to renew 50 per cent of Shenhua’s exploration licence in the Liverpool Plains in July, 2017 while paying the mining company $262 million as part of a government buyback following significant opposition to the project.
The tribunal acknowledged there was “a good deal of public interest in the Shenhua buyback and in the management of natural resources more generally in NSW”.
“It is also apparent that significant sums of public money are involved in the arrangements between the State and Shenhua, and allowing the public to gain a better understanding of those arrangements would enhance the transparency and accountability of government decision making,” the tribunal said.
But the public benefit did not outweigh that negotiations between the government and Shenhua had been in confidence, the tribunal said.
Lock the Gate sought access to documents relating to Shenhua’s application to renew an exploration licence after significant public, farming and political opposition to the mine on the Liverpool Plains near Gunnedah, and draft exploration licence and mining licence documents.
“The public needs to know why this government gave $262 million in public funds to a foreign-owned mining company for no apparent public benefit,” Ms Woods said.
In November former Department of Planning mining titles operations manager Rebecca Connor became the first of four department whistleblowers to allege serious problems within the department’s management of coal mining in NSW.
Ms Connor alleged her employment was terminated after she made serious corruption allegations to senior staff.
“We’re calling for a Special Commission of Inquiry into this and other recent controversies surrounding the administration of mining in NSW, including issues raised by numerous whistleblowers over the last two months,” Ms Woods said.