DOCUMENTS released under NSW freedom of information laws show how closely the NSW Department of Planning works with the coal industry, even on policies aimed at the community.
Department documents obtained by Lock the Gate show that while the NSW Government’s proposed Integrated Mining Policy was placed on public display for ‘‘community and industry consultation’’ in May, the coal industry has had input into the policy for 10 months.
The Integrated Mining Policy’s aim is to “improve mining regulation and strengthen information available for communities near mining projects”, the department said.
But documents show a proposed new economic assessment process for mine projects based on an unorthodox ‘‘local effects statement’’ has been criticised by at least one consultant for lacking transparency.
The department started work on the new economic assessment process as the coal price dropped and the economics of coal mines became more difficult.
The new process was also proposed after the department and mining companies experienced a string of embarrassing rebukes on economic issues in 2014 from Planning Assessment Commissions and the NSW Land and Environment Court.
Documents show the department provided the Minerals Council of NSW with key reports about its proposed new mine assessment processes in October 2014.
The Minerals Council and its members were able to commission consultant reports to review the policy documents, make submissions in December 2014 and have several meetings with the department.
By March this year the department had prepared separate responses to Minerals Council submissions on water, mine application guidelines, assessment requirements and other topics.
Australia Institute economist Rod Campbell, whose criticism of mine economic assessments and the Department of Planning’s acceptance of them was endorsed in Planning Assessment Commission and court criticisms, said the documents showed the coal industry had ‘‘literally been writing its own rules in NSW’’.
“It will not surprise anyone in communities fighting coal mines to discover that the department has been trying to water down economic assessment requirements for coal companies, working secretly with industry behind closed doors,’’ Mr Campbell said.
“What is surprising is that the department couldn’t even get it right. The Minerals Council’s own consultants, Deloittes, panned the department’s approach as having ‘data reliability issues’.”
Documents showed that in an attempt to address the Minerals Council concerns, the department in March employed Deloittes at a cost of up to $40,000 to redraft parts of the policy.
A Department of Planning spokesperson said the NSW Government had requested new guidelines in response to concerns raised by the Planning Assessment Commission.
The new guidelines, which will be on public exhibition in coming months, would set out a process for completing both a cost benefit analysis and a local effects analysis of a proposed project.
They would draw on the 2012 guidelines for cost benefit analysis of mining and coal seam gas proposals and NSW Treasury guidelines for economic appraisal.