Residents celebrate as Hunter mining licences cancelled 

HARD-FOUGHT community campaigns to expose corrupt coal dealings have been "vindicated" with the state government's decision yesterday to cancel three exploration licences issued over parts of the Hunter and Bylong valleys.

PLEASE CONTACT SMH PIC DESK BEFORE USE. ICAC. Former NSW Labor MP Ian Macdonald leaving a private ICAC meeting today Friday 1st November 2013. Photograph by James Brickwood. SMH NEWS 131101_MG_0508.jpg

PLEASE CONTACT SMH PIC DESK BEFORE USE. ICAC. Former NSW Labor MP Ian Macdonald leaving a private ICAC meeting today Friday 1st November 2013. Photograph by James Brickwood. SMH NEWS 131101_MG_0508.jpg

Premier Barry O'Farrell announced legislation would be introduced to cancel the Doyles Creek licence, over land near Jerrys Plains, and the Mount Penny and Glendon Brook licences, covering the Bylong Valley family farm of former Labor MP Eddie Obeid and land near Singleton.

No compensation would be paid.

It follows recommendations from the Independent Commission Against Corruption last month that the licences were "so tainted by corruption" they should be "expunged or cancelled".

Former resources minister Ian Macdonald was found corrupt over the granting of the licences, along with Mr Obeid.

The Doyles Creek Mining founders and "Newcastle entrepreneurs" Andrew Poole and Craig Ransley were also found corrupt, as was John Maitland, Mr Macdonald's friend and a former union official.

Mr O'Farrell said all exploration data on the tenements would have to be provided to the government but the licence holders would remain responsible for any necessary rehabilitation works on the sites.

The legislation would indemnify taxpayers from any possible claims, he said.

NuCoal, which secured the licence when it acquired Doyles Creek Mining, said it was disappointed and that there had been "no consultation whatsoever" despite its requests to meet with the government.

A NuCoal spokesman said it would explore "all legal avenues" to recover compensation for its shareholders.

Cascade Coal, which holds the Mount Penny and Glendon Brook licences, said the decision was "grossly unjust" and would do "irreparable damage to the reputation of NSW and raise significant questions of sovereign risk".

But residents who campaigned against the deals said it was ‘‘hats off’’ to the government for acting on the commission’s findings, although that did not mean an end to all coalmining proposals in their areas.

‘‘It’s enormously pleasing that people who thought something was wrong and fought to have their concerns heard have been vindicated,’’ Bylong Valley Protection Alliance spokesman Craig Shaw said.

Apple Tree Flat landowner Bryan Chapman said the news was a ‘‘relief’’, but residents faced uncertainty in the long term of whether the exploration area would be released again.

‘‘We always hoped it was inevitable [the licence would be cancelled],’’ he said.

Hunter community groups called on the government to introduce a triple bottom line assessment process – which considers the economic, social and environmental impacts of a project – when determining future exploration licence applications.

‘‘It [triple-bottom line] was one of the 26 recommendations in the ICAC report. A triple bottom assessment would have avoided a lot of the conflicts that arose with these licences,’’ Lock the Gate spokesman Steve Phillips said.

‘‘It’s a great result for the people of Bylong Valley and Jerrys Plains who have battled for the past year to expose the injustices that have occurred.’’

Hunter Communities Network spokeswoman Bev Smiles also welcomed the government’s action.

‘‘It’s a very important decision and sends a message that this sort of behaviour won’t be tolerated,’’ she said.

Mr O’Farrell said there was no intention to immediately re-release the exploration areas.

But if the government did, it would follow a process based on the commission’s probity recommendations. 

‘‘This draws a line under this sorry saga of Labor politics and corruption in NSW,’’ he said.