Opinion – NSW green washes more mining concessions

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Well it took no time at all for the O’Farrell government to react to the Warkworth and Maules Creek legal challenges from coal mine affected communities.

Both cases involve the biodiversity offsets required by state and federal planning authorities. Rather than work within the existing framework the O’Farrell Government has announced sweeping changes to biodiversity offsets that turn a potential hurdle for proponents into a windfall gain for the state.

Unbelievably the NSW Environment Minister, Robin Parker, green washed the new plans as a “Boost for Biodiversity, New fund to support the environment”.

She went on to say “a new biodiversity offsets fund would be established to enable major projects to contribute money, rather than locating and purchasing sites themselves” and “the NSW government remains committed to streamlining approvals processes to reduce red tape, and reduce both the cost and time required to gain approval.

Yep, it’s about the approval not the environment and this signal to the coal industry makes a mockery of two years of negotiations around the controversial Strategic Regional Land Use Policy (SRLUP) by conservationists, farmers  and miners.

The SRLUP required the development of an existing biodiversity offsets database and the identification of priority areas in order to improve the biodiversity outcomes of highly destructive projects such as those in state forests such as Leard and Pilliga. It went on to require practical initiatives such as regional air quality monitoring and health standards for incremental and cumulative dust impacts, none of which have seen the light of day.

A year or two on it seems the main purpose of the SRLUP was to weaken landholder protections and provide certainty of mining developments via a range of measures such as the infamous Gateway Process. Scratching offsets as an impediment to land access is the next logical step for the mining juggernaut.

This latest announcement from the Environment Minister goes even further by making it cheaper for the miners as it says “offset calculations [can] be discounted where significant social and economic benefits accrue to NSW as a result of a proposal”. The Ministers so called “Boost” is so one sided, there is question as who in fact wrote this media release.

It is all reminiscent of the former Labor administration as new exploration areas are facilitated while money changes hands.  The NSW LNP government has tried it’s best to sideline communities such as Bulga and Maules Creek in order to get on with a process that is anything but transparent. When big money is involved certain people can’t help themselves and one wonders how long until ICAC makes new rounds of the corridors in Macquarie St.