PEOPLE with mining subsidence damage caused by operating mines will have to negotiate directly with coal companies under the Baird government’s overhaul of the Mine Subsidence Board.
Under changes announced by Finance Minister Dominic Perrottet this week, the government intends to abolish the subsidence board and replace it with an organisation called Subsidence Advisory NSW.
Advisory NSW will still fund subsidence claims from abandoned mines but the government says claims from operating mines will be settled by “discussion between the mine operator and the claimant”.
“This is consistent with how property owners are directly compensated for other mine-related damages such as blasting or dust management,” the government says.
Bulga resident John Krey said the industry paid no heed to dust and blast damage so it was unlikely to act any differently if it was given the power to negotiate its own subsidence outcomes.
Opposition finance spokesperson and Cessnock MP Clayton Barr said the Mine Subsidence Board’s shortcomings were obvious, and the Newcastle Herald had played the leading role in exposing its problems.
But until the government released the review it was using to justify the overhaul it was impossible to say whether the path it had chosen was reasonable.
Andrew Neale, who with his wife Kylie fought an eight-year battle with the authorities over a sinkhole that opened next to their Gillieston Heights home, said he was still waiting for justice.
Mr Neale said the family’s case against Maitland City Council had been settled out of court but the subsidence board had escaped on a technicality. He said new chief executive Katherine McInnes had visited their home but he was still waiting to hear the outcome of an across-the-board invitation to “resubmit previous cases for review”.
A Q&A sheet explaining the changes says the government ordered a review of the subsidence board after an ICAC investigation and “significant community and industry concern” about its operation. About 90 per cent of subsidence claims now related to damage from active mines – most of them longwalls – rather than subsidence from abandoned mines.
The government planned to split subsidence responsibilities in two. All coal companies would still pay a subsidence levy, but it would be reduced. Claims relating to abandoned mines (such as the Neales family’s) would be funded by the government.
“The most significant change is to make current underground coal mining operators accountable for the subsidence they cause,” the Q&A sheet says. “If a property is damaged by mine subsidence caused by an active coal mine, property owners will lodge a claim with government, who will facilitate a discussion between the mine operator and the claimant. Government will regulate the process and support claimants to ensure that mining operators are fully accountable for the damages they cause. This is consistent with how property owners are directly compensated for other mine-related damages such as blasting or dust management.”
Mr Barr said the new system could be “a war of attrition”. He was not opposed to reforming the subsidence board but it was hard to support the changes without seeing the legislation.
A government spokesman said consultation would be followed by draft legislation as soon as January. All claims would be assessed by an independent assessor. Subsidence claims would be subject to statutory guidelines.
“Mining operators found to be in breach of the guidelines may be charged with an offence, fined, or have their mining licence revoked,” the spokesman said.