The New South Wales state government has released changes to the state’s planning law which, if passed, will grant big mining companies more power and reduce communities and councils’ already limited rights of appeal.
The government says the changes to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act (EP&A Act) 1979, released on January 9, are primarily about promoting “confidence” in the state’s planning system.
But Lock the Gate Alliance said the proposed changes could well have been written by the mining industry itself.
The updated objectives are a fuzzily-worded promotion of “community participation”, “proper management” and “conservation” of NSW’s “natural and other resources”.
The government has committed to halving assessment times for “state significant projects” — mines, wind energy developments and industrial manufacturing sites — that are already under-scrutinised.
The changes also strengthen the planning minister’s power to override local council planning decisions and allow government appointees to sit on local planning panels.
The draft bill aims to do away with “reviews” by the Planning and Assessment Commission (PAC) and make substantial regressive changes to the already flawed process.
The PAC will essentially be merged with another authority, the Mining and Petroleum Gateway Panel, with some members of the gateway panel becoming commissioners.
NSW planning minister Rob Stokes said the new authority “will guide assessments undertaken by the department” to ensure the average project proposal period was halved by between 70 and 160 days.
The changes will also remove the avenue for appeal against certain development decisions, including those in the mining sector. The NSW Minerals Council is happy with the proposed changes.
“Internal reviews of state significant development will not be available for high-risk developments, such as heavy industries, intensive livestock industries and mining operations if the commission has held a public hearing into the development”, the summary noted.
Marie Flood, from Stop Coal Seam Gas Sydney, said the Mike Baird government is not to be trusted.
“We know the Baird government’s record: pushing for more CSG and coalmines, passing new laws to greatly increase penalties against anyone who dares to protest against mining and development projects and the weakening of environmental protection laws,” she told Green Left Weekly.
“Parts of this new proposal do seem to be a response to corrupt and incompetent practices by miners and developers”, Flood said, “but ultimately the changes are about speeding up the exercise of power.
“We will keep this record in mind as we read the proposal critically and make submissions, drawing attention to what good planning laws would look like.”
Lock the Gate Alliance’s Georgina Woods said that if communities are not able to query approvals in court and the new “Independent Planning Commission” is not accountable, protests againstr mine approvals would continue.
“Overall, the Baird government is giving the mining industry what it wants while leaving communities to suffer under the same unfair rules they’ve already got,” said Woods.
[The draft changes are open for public comment until March 10. Go to planning.nsw.gov.au/Have-Your-Say/Community-Consultations or forward written submissions to the department at the Legislative Updates email firstname.lastname@example.org.]