The New South Wales Government has come under increasing pressure from the mining industry lobbying for changes to the planning system. The NSW Minerals Council recently launched an advertising campaign, "Hurt mining. Hurt NSW", which targets the government over delays and uncertainty in the system. All this in the lead-up to a March election.
Premier Mike Baird has responded to the mounting pressure, at the NSW Minerals Council Awards function held on 20 November 2014, he said he is "…drawing a line in the sand….NSW must do better and I assure you we will".
The Government's response is two-fold.
On 21 November 2014 Planning Minister Pru Goward announced reforms to how state significant development proposals are processed under NSW's planning system. The reforms include:
- Introducing clear timeframes for the Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) and other NSW Government assessment processes and clear accountability for meeting those timeframes.
- Appointing case managers from the Department of Premier and Cabinet to manage planning applications through complex government processes and be accountable to a Cabinet committee for delivering outcomes on time.
- Establishing a whole-of-government approach to assessing state significant mining applications to make sure that agencies responsible provide timely advice and feedback.
- Setting up a panel of independent experts to advise the NSW Government and the PAC on technical issues.
- Giving clearer guidance to the PAC on the application of government policies.
- Engaging better with communities affected by mining proposals by providing clearer information and more opportunities for community questions to be answered.
- Appointing additional compliance officers in regional areas and ensuring conditions are being adhered to.
The average assessment times for mining projects has escalated from 500 days to 1000 days in the past six years.
Premier Baird has committed to halve the time it takes to approve major infrastructure projects with the Government's initial outlined reforms alone expected to reduce the average time to process state significant developments by up to 170 days. These reforms are to be implemented over the coming weeks and months.
The second part of the Government's response to industry will form part of its post-election delivery if successful in the March 2015 election. Premier Baird has expressed a strong position against protestors who act illegally. The Premier is committed to address laws which currently hold mining companies responsible for the safety of protesters who trespass on mine sites. He has reportedly committed to increase penalties for protesters who break into mining operations, illegally damage equipment or disrupt work; saying "[W]e need legislation which provides a real deterrent to this unlawful behaviour and protects businesses from illegal protesting activities."
The planning reforms are intended to provide certainty for both communities and industry across the state. However, as the Government continues to strike a balance between environmental concerns on the one hand, and industry on the other, time will be the ultimate judge of certainty.
For information on the current situation developing fossil fuel projects in Australia, please click here.