NSW Coal and Gas Strategy - Singleton meeting

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NSW Coal and Gas Strategy - Singleton meeting

Postby HVPA_research » Tue Mar 15, 2011 5:35 am

This letter was written to the current Opposition and submitted to the HVPA Members mailing list by a visitor to the Hunter this week after attending the Dept meeting at the Civic Centre in Singleton. Please read, it is a very good summary of such.


I attended the meeting in Singleton yesterday to discuss the Scoping Study that Minister Kelly is pushing in the twilight of this government. I left the event after 21/2 hours very concerned and perturbed. I thought I should give you some feedback from my perspective after reflecting on it overnight.

Over 450 very concerned Hunter Valley residents turned up and expressed a range of fears, very strong reservations and objections to the way in which the State Government is allowing the coal mining and Coal Seam Gas industries to develop in NSW and particularly in the Hunter Valley. As you would expect, the audience focused on community and social disruption, agriculture and food security, health issues, water security and foreign ownership. The lasting environmental damage evidenced by the piles of mine spoil rock clearly visible in the area, amongst other things, was also pointed out. Individuals and communities are clearly frightened and/or extremely concerned by the seemingly uncontrolled expansion of both industries. The majority weren't "greenies" but people like you and I. I know you've heard it all before!

It wasn't the horror stories and emotion that shocked me as I had expected it. It was actually the way the whole process was presented by the Minister and the representatives of the Planning Department who spoke and answered questions. The pitch was that the expansion of both industries was a great idea given the global demand over the next 30 years and that the Government had decided that NSW should chase this growth. We should effectively go for broke…after all we only provided 4% of the world's coal and had plenty of room to grow. In addition, Coal Seam Gas was obviously the answer to our energy security issues, provided a wonderful export opportunity and the State had no presence in that market. However, it was conceded that the process hadn't been managed as well as it could have been and it was time for a review and some consideration of the issues and community concerns on a "triple bottom line" basis.

The glib way the story was presented was a shock. The superficial answers to the questions from the audience particularly by Minister Kelly and the speakers was a real concern. The facilitator and Minister Kelly showed real irritation at some points but then were overly solicitous at others. One couldn't help but get the feeling that this whole process was reluctantly embraced but overall, the issues were just unfortunate obstacles to be overcome to ensure the smooth running of the smart development programme that had been mapped out by the Government (and the companies) for the industry.

I shouldn't infer that the speakers were overly rude or arrogant. In fact Mr Richard Pearson the Deputy Director General of Planning seemed genuinely concerned to understand the issues. His fellow speaker, Mr David Kitto, was far more matter of fact and seemed quite happy with the status quo whilst seemingly paying lip service to the input…I hope I'm not being unfair here. [I asked Richard later whether he had enough people in his department who were qualified to assess and monitor these projects. He said that now his group was working with I &I and DECCW (I think) and that he felt they had the needed skills and knowledge but didn't sound very convincing. He then went on to explain that his monitoring resources had recently been increased from 3 to 6 people across the State but were still a bit light on!]

We heard that these industries are actually very strongly regulated but that the pendulum had swung a bit too far towards the miners and needed to be redressed at the margin. We heard the words "triple bottom line" ad nauseam but it was never explained. Vague concepts of taking the community and environmental issues into account were put forward but with no substance at all. When challenged on "the plan", it was explained that this process would develop the plan and the results would be brought back to the community by mid year for discussion. We heard that a committee had been set up to assist with the process.

There was plenty of "mea culpa" and "we should have done better" but no indication that the issues being raised were anything but road bumps along the way. There was no indication that these were very serious causes for reflection and concern about the long-term future development of the State rather than just an acceleration of the existing plan.

There was no talk of ecologically sustainable development as a central consideration in the process. There seemed only fleeting concern for the fundamental impact of these decisions on the future water and food resources in the State other than passing commentary in response to repeated questions from the audience. The short sightedness of the process and obvious lack of any sophisticated overall strategic framework coming from the Government is of serious concern.

Minister Kelly seemed sincere. However he was thin skinned and defensive at times. He was also very quick, when challenged, to hand-pass responsibility for the recent Gloucester AGL Coal Seam Gas decision to the Planning Assessment Commission!

Unfortunately, whether it was intended or not, the event had all the hallmarks of a PR exercise and that's how it was taken by many in the audience.

Without being too presumptive, I'd like to suggest that you should look very closely at the brief that is given to this group if it continues with the process once the Coalition is in Government. I'd turn the process on its head and look at sustainability issues front and centre and then plan from there, not the other way around. The underlying assumptions driving the process of review should be challenged not just accepted. In my mind, this process will not result in fundamental change but more likely some tweaks to process, a bit more accountability but ultimately no fundamental, real and sustainable, change to the way business is done in the State by mining and gas companies. This will be to the great detriment of the communities and environment in NSW over the medium to long term.
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