Coal exploration ‘fair process’ questioned

AN exploration licence over the Wybong area near Denman has effectively been granted to a coal company that paid more than $100 million in fees in advance to the former Labor government.

Despite previously criticising such huge charges as a risk to ‘‘fair process’’, the state government is yet to introduce a new schedule of fees, more than 18 months after starting an overhaul of the system. 

The Department of Trade and Investment recently put out a letter of offer for the Wybong licence to Ridgelands Coal Resources, which is believed to consist of a consortium of China- and Singapore-based companies.

 If the company accepts proposed conditions, the licence will be granted.

It first applied for the licence through an expressions-of-interest process the then resources minister Ian Macdonald called in 2009.

Mr Macdonald, who is at the centre of the state corruption watchdog’s inquiries into the granting of other exploration licences in the Bylong Valley, gave approval to Ridgelands in April2010 to apply for an exploration licence within six months.

This triggered an obligation for a $122million payment. 

The company did not apply then, but did so last year.

Wybong Action Group member John Shewan said it was ‘‘disappointing’’  the application had been approved. This could destroy one of the last remnants of vegetation in the valley, he said.

In July 2011 Resources Minister Chris Hartcher said a fee schedule based on scale and tonnage would be developed.

“Under the former Labor government, the community rightly felt that fair process was at risk, with hundreds of millions of dollars demanded at the exploration stage,’’ he said.

A spokeswoman for Mr Hartcher said last week  a committee of Treasury, Finance and Services, and Trade and Investment representatives was still considering the matter.

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