Key Points:

The NSW Government is proposing changes to the Community Consultative Committee Guidelines so that they will apply to all State significant projects.

The Department of Planning and Environment has released revised Draft Community Consultative Committee Guidelines for public consultation which will apply to all new State significant projects and not just major mining projects, in NSW. Submissions can be made on the Guidelines up to Thursday, 31 March 2016.

The current guidelines relating to the establishment of a Community Consultative Committee were prepared in 2007 and apply to all major mining projects in NSW. However, once finalised, the Draft Guidelines will apply to all State significant projects, not just mining.

The purpose of revising the current guidelines is said to be in response to feedback from a range of stakeholders on how to increase the operation and effectiveness of the Committees.

What is a Community Consultative Committee?

A Committee functions as an advisory body only, with its members consisting of representatives of the Company (that is, the entity who holders the approval for the project or proponent for that project), the community, the local council and other key stakeholders.

The purpose of the Committee is to provide the forum for its members to discuss issues directly relating to the project, such as performance against any conditions of approval, and establish ongoing communication of information on the project and environmental performance.

What's new?

Key change: Application of the Guidelines.

Current Guidelines: Apply to major mining projects.

Draft Guidelines: Apply to all State significant projects.

Key change: Timing of establishment of a Committee.

Current Guidelines: A Committee is to be established after approval is given.

Draft Guidelines: A Committee can now be established at different stages of a project (for example before an application is lodged) rather than only after approval is given.

Key change: Requirement for establishment of a Committee.

Current Guidelines: Required under the conditions of approval by the Minister.

Draft Guidelines: It is now expressly stated that the requirement to establish a Committee will be decided by the Department and will either be included in the:

  • Secretary's environmental assessment requirements (SEARs) for the project; or
  • conditions of approval for the project.

Key change: Lifespan of a Committee.

Current Guidelines: No set life span of a Committee set once established.

Draft Guidelines: Committee may have a defined life and can be dissolved after a particular stage of the project is completed or if the Committee decides there is little benefit in continuing the operations of the Committee.

Key change: Selection criteria for community representatives members.

Current Guidelines: The selection criteria for community representatives are:

  • willingness to contribute constructively;
  • experience and ability to provide feedback to the community and stakeholder groups; and
  • current residence in the local area and/or awareness of local and other relevant issues.

Draft Guidelines: The selection criteria for community representatives are:

  • current residents of the area;
  • demonstrated involvement in local community groups and/or activities;
  • knowledge and awareness of the project and related issues of concern to the local community;
  • ability to represent the local community and other stakeholders; and
  • willingness to adhere to the Committee's code of conduct.

New selection criteria for environmental organisations would also be inserted:

  • a representative of a recognised environmental organisation;
  • knowledge and awareness of the project and related environmental issues of concern to the broader community;
  • ability to represent the environmental concerns of the broader community; and
  • willingness to adhere to the Committee's code of conduct.

Other changes in the Draft Guidelines:

  • the procedures for the establishment of a Committee are revised, including:
    • the process for selecting and appointing the Independent Chairperson; and
    • involving the Independent Chairperson in the selection of community representatives. The Independent Chairperson will now review all applications and provide those applications to the Department along with the recommended candidates;
    • clear procedures for replacing committee members;
  • a toolkit which contains prescribed form templates to be used in the process of establishing and operating a Committee; and
  • stronger guidance on the conduct of Committee meetings, including a requirement for Committee members to sign a Code of Conduct Agreement, a template of which is contained in the toolkit, and steps for non-compliance with that Code.

What next?

Submissions can be made by one of the methods specified on the Department's website.

Once finalised, the Draft Guidelines will apply to all new State significant projects where a requirement to establish a Committee is contained in the:

  • SEARs for the project; or
  • conditions of approval for the project.

We understand from discussions with the Department that the Draft Guidelines will also apply retrospectively to existing projects which require a Committee; however only to the extent of guiding the continued operation of the Committee.

For example, where a Committee has already been appointed, reappointment in accordance with the revised Guidelines would not be required but the Committee would need to execute and abide by a Code of Conduct. Where new Committee members need to be appointed, the revised Guidelines would then operate. The details of how the revised Guidelines will apply to existing projects will be clarified further once submissions have been considered and the revised Guidelines finalised.