LEE Shearer has expressed "significant sadness" at the abrupt end to her job as the state's top mining regulator but has given no reason for her sudden exit in an email to selected Department of Planning staff on Wednesday.
The former Hunter top cop did not respond to claims in the Newcastle Herald by sacked senior department executives who said the "resign before you're pushed" method was "the process the department uses to remove somebody who doesn't agree with them".
In an email confirming she would be "leaving the NSW public sector" on Friday, Ms Shearer said she was "confident that all members of the Resources Regulator understand the values which underpin a modern regulator", such as "accountability, transparency, integrity and building trust".
She leaves the job only days after being named Telstra NSW businesswoman of the year.
The email makes no reference to the status of a major independent audit of the mining titles and licensing area that was announced in December, and overseen by Ms Shearer, after weeks of allegations in the Herald about an alleged "be silent or be sacked" culture in the department.
The then department secretary Carolyn McNally announced the audit because "some of the allegations impact on the public's confidence in the work of the department".
The Department of Planning did not respond to questions about Ms Shearer's departure or the status of the audit, although the Herald understands an interim report substantiating some of the concerns raised by former executives has been presented to the department.
Ms Shearer's departure was made public on Wednesday as SafeWork NSW confirmed it issued an embarrassing formal warning to the Department of Planning in 2018 after investigating a breakdown in processes linked to mine safety.
The department failed to detect a breakdown in its licensing of testing facilities that certify diesel vehicles used in underground coal mines are not fire or explosion risks.
The four testing facilities, including one at Thornton, were unlicensed for a number of months from late 2017 after a breakdown in the licensing process.
SafeWork NSW said it undertook "an investigation of the Division of Resources and Geosciences for failure to licence diesel-testing facilities. As a result of the outcome of the investigation a letter of warning was issued to the department."
In a short statement the Department of Planning said an "administrative breach resulted in short periods during which licences to inspect diesel engines were not issued".
"There were no safety or environmental impacts. SafeWork was advised and determined that an administrative breach had occurred," the spokesperson said.
The Herald was told the breach was not picked up until it was reported by an internal whistleblower.
In her email Ms Shearer said she had only expected to stay with the Department of Resources and Energy for one year when she joined the department in 2014.
"It is truly time for me to go," she said.
"Not only is the timing right for me, it is right for the settled leadership of the Resources Regulator to completely take the reins and work with all of you on the next stage of the journey - whatever that turns out to be. We have undergone significant reform around the way business was done - the achievements are many and should continue to be celebrated."
A former department executive who was sacked only two weeks after receiving a NSW business leadership award said "It's almost like winning an award is a kiss of death".
Two former department executives suggested Ms Shearer would have been advised to resign and accept a year's payout or face the option of a lower-paid position that was "not really a choice".
Former Department of Planning mining titles operations officer Rebecca Connor, who was sacked after reporting a number of alleged misconduct matters, said she had "huge concerns" about the future of an independent audit that was necessary to identify long-standing issues in the department.
Controversies included months of silence from the NSW Government about the Department of Planning's role in mining company Ridgelands' attempt to cut a Hunter community fund from $5 million to $500,000. The fund remained secret from the community for more than four years.
The department in 2018 confirmed a Department of Planning employee with a key role in the Ridgelands case was married to a Hunter coal miner. Documents obtained under freedom of information showed the employee said her unit had "no objections" to the "significant decrease" in the fund because the company had experienced circumstances beyond its control.
Ms McNally left the department abruptly several weeks ago after newly re-elected Premier Gladys Berejiklian appointed Rob Stokes as new Planning Minister and former Infrastructure NSW chief executive Jim Betts was appointed to take her place.
Ms Connor said the audit should have been available to the public before the March election, and it was inappropriate to terminate Ms Shearer before it was completed because she was specifically tasked with overseeing the process.
"I just think they'll bury it," she said.