Activists step-up anti-Rio coal campaign

CITING documents obtained under Freedom of Information laws, activist group Lock the Gate has accused the New South Wales government of colluding with Rio Tinto over the Warkworth mine extension project in the Hunter Valley.
Activists step-up anti-Rio coal campaign Activists step-up anti-Rio coal campaign Activists step-up anti-Rio coal campaign Activists step-up anti-Rio coal campaign Activists step-up anti-Rio coal campaign

Mount Thorley Warkworth. Copyright Rio Tinto 2014.

Blair Price

While the group did not make the documents public on its website, which are believed to mainly consist of email correspondence around October 2014, it did use them to make the following claims:

  • The biodiversity conditions for the project were drafted by the director of mining and industry in the Department of Planning, not by an ecological expert at the Office of Environment and Heritage. They were swiftly approved six days later.
  • A senior bureaucrat at OEH reassured Rio Tinto: “We appreciate timeliness is of the essence. I understand there are various meetings between Rio Tinto and senior levels within government.”
  • Under pressure from Rio Tinto, and well before OEH had been given sufficient information to properly scrutinise the offset package, an OEH Hunter Regional Manager reassured Rio Tinto that “the fundamentals were okay”
  • OEH certified the offset scheme in a rush after substantial pressure from Rio Tinto to sign-off on it before it was considered by the PAC, despite advice from NSW Planning it should only be issued after the PAC hearing.

While the NSW government has conditionally recommended approval for Rio’s 21-year mine life extension plans for the Warkworth and nearby Mount Thorley coal mines, final approval rests with the independent Planning Assessment Commission.

A PAC verdict on the Mount Thorley and Warkworth mining complex was long expected by this Friday, February 20, however, the commission has applied for a two week time extension.

In its applications Rio has stressed the need to maintain existing production rates of 18 million tonnes per annum run-of-mine from the Warkworth mine and 10Mtpa ROM from Mount Thorley.

In relation to LTG’s claims, a Rio spokesman said the company followed appropriate process at all times “and will continue to pursue a timely approval to secure the long term future of Mount Thorley-Warkworth mine and its 1300 employees and contractors".

A spokesman from the Department of Planning and Environment said the emails showed a "rigorous, transparent process for assessing mining proposals in action, shining a light on the independent nature of the way the department makes decisions".