NSW gets a new mining minister

THE mining sector in New South Wales is set to undergo more upheaval after former Minerals and Forestry Resources Minister Ian Macdonald resigned in controversial circumstances.

Lou Caruana

He is being replaced by Ports and Waterways Minister Paul McLeay, who is also the minister for the Illawarra.

Macdonald was seen by industry insiders as a good mediator between competing rural and mining interests in northern NSW, who was willing to listen to complaints from NSW miners about the impact of the proposed resources super-profits tax.

“The NSW government will be seeking clarity on the proposal as well as undertaking consultation with stakeholders,” he recently told a meeting of mining occupational health and safety professionals in the Hunter Valley.

“We will be undertaking an assessment of the RSPT to gauge the potential for its impact on the industry.”

Macdonald was instrumental in moving an amendment to the Mining Act to protect the interests of explorers after a Supreme Court decision in March went against BHP Billiton’s proposed Caroona coal project and stipulated that all related parties needed to agree to exploration.

The court ruling opened up the requirements on which parties are considered landholders, forcing explorers to look into access agreements with additional stakeholders, such as mortgage providers and power companies.

The Supreme Court decision called into question the validity of thousands of access arrangements where there is more than one “landholder” as defined by the Mining Act, Macdonald said at the time.

In May, the NSW Parliament passed amendments to mining legislation to clear up land-access issues caused by the Supreme Court decision.

It amends the definition of “landholder” so that an exploration company only needs to make an access arrangement with a person who has exclusive possession of a property or a right to exclusive possession, and it establishes an expedited determination process to the Land and Environment Court where access arrangements have been set aside by a court decision.

Macdonald had no hesitation in taking on the Greens who opposed coal mining developments in the state.

“Coal production, valued at about $19.3 billion in 2008-09, is the state’s largest mining sector,” he said.

“Coal is the single-largest export from NSW in value terms.

“The NSW Greens assume that by limiting the amount of mining in NSW that somehow the people of NSW would be better off.

“The Greens don’t understand that the NSW mining industry directly contributes to their standard of living and is striving to make itself a world leader in occupational health and safety and environmental performance.”

The NSW Minerals Council welcomed the appointment of Minister McLeay to the new portfolio.

“Through his current ministerial responsibilities and as the member for Heathcote, Minister McLeay has a clear understanding of the contribution and significance of mining in NSW,” NSW Minerals Council chief executive Nikki Williams said.

“Adding mineral resources to Minister McLeay’s Illawarra and ports and waterways portfolios makes sense and we look forward to building a constructive relationship over coming months.

“There are 35,000 people directly employed in mining and another 30,000 in minerals processing and associated industries such as steel making.

“The mining industry returned almost $1.3 billion to the people of NSW in royalty payments last year, which helped to provide teachers, police and nurses across the state.

“That’s on top of all of the payments companies make to local suppliers and the wages that miners spend back in their home towns.”

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