Rio court decision a blow to NSW coal jobs: NSWMIN

THE New South Wales planning system could jeopardise the future of more than 1300 coal mining jobs in the Hunter Valley after Coal & Allied lost an appeal against a Land & Environment Court decision to halt the $600 million expansion of its Mt Thorley Warkworth complex, the NSW Minerals Council has warned.

Lou Caruana

As foreshadowed in ICN, Rio Tinto subsidiary Coal & Allied has now committed to progressing with new planning applications as a matter of urgency to secure a long-term future for Mount Thorley Warkworth mine.

The decision by the Supreme Court to uphold the overturning of the planned Mount Thorley Warkworth modification embodies everything wrong with the NSW planning system, NSW Minerals Council CEO Stephen Galilee said.

“What kind of message does it send about investing in NSW when a project proponent can spend over three years in the planning system, receive approvals at every level, and then be overturned by a single judge in the Land and Environment Court a year later?” he said.

“It’s little wonder that mining investment has halved in NSW over the last two years and continues to fall, contributing to the loss of over 2,000 mining jobs across the state.

“What’s missing are the right policy settings from the NSW government, including a planning system that provides certainty and consistency in its outcomes. On this front, the number one economic priority for the NSW government must be to fix the broken planning system.”

The court effectively overruled the decisions made by the independent Planning Assessment Commission and the government departments charged with assessing whether projects should be approved, based on an individual’s own interpretation of highly technical subject matter, rather than any errors in law or procedure, Coal & Allied MD Chris Salisbury said.

“Today’s decision by the court comes as no surprise, given the limited scope of the appeal available to us,” he said.

“We remain committed to securing new approvals that will provide a long term future for Mount Thorley Warkworth mine and the jobs of its 1300 workers.

“Our current approvals will only allow Mount Thorley Warkworth to maintain existing production and employment levels until the end of 2015.

“It is essential we secure longer-term approvals before then to ensure the mine remains economically viable.

“The new proposals we are putting forward include a range of upfront measures that go above and beyond the existing comprehensive program to manage impacts from Mount Thorley Warkworth mine.

“These upfront measures include an offer to provide more than 1800 hectares of land towards a national park, $4 million towards a significant regeneration program for the Warkworth sands Woodlands and ironbark ecological communities, and more than $1.5 million for training and employment programs aimed at youth in the Upper Hunter.”

Given the nature of the appeal rights the Court of Appeal case was heard on a relatively narrow scope confined to points of law, according to Salisbury.

“This meant no further consideration could be given to the merit of the judgement made by the NSW Land and Environment Court, which we believe contained significant factual errors,” Salisbury said.

“We lodged this appeal to do everything we could to protect production and jobs, even though there was only a very limited chance that it would result in the approval being reinstated.

“A single Land and Environment Court judge disagreed with the outcome of a rigorous planning process that had determined that this mine extension was in the overall public interest.

“It should also not be forgotten that the federal government has issued an approval for the project under its federal environmental legislation.

“All of these issues were unfortunately outside the legal scope available to us for appeal to the Court of Appeal.”