State Environmental Planning (Permissible Mining) Bill

About this Item
SpeakersKnowles Mr Craig
BusinessBill, First Reading, Second Reading


Bill introduced and read a first time.
Second Reading

Mr KNOWLES (Moorebank - Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning, and Minister for Housing) [4.47]: I move:
      That this bill be now read a second time.

The bill aims to validate State environmental planning policy 45 - Permissibility of Mining - as gazetted on 4 August 1995. The bill will also validate the consent granted to the Bengalla Mining Company for the development of an open-cut coalmine near Muswellbrook. It is clearly the Government's intention to provide certainty for the mining sector and indeed for all investment projects in the State. Our green paper released last week promoting an integrated land use, planning and natural resource approvals policy for New South Wales further confirms the Government's position in this regard. The bill is necessary as a consequence of a decision of the Land and Environment Court which is currently the subject of an appeal. However, by introducing this bill the Government intends to let the Parliament decide the future of State environmental planning policy 45, avoiding long delays and future appeals and additional unnecessary costs and uncertainty.

The bill does not affect the status of any other State environment planning policy nor any development application lodged under that or any other SEPP. The bill will ensure the promotion of the economic and social development of New South Wales by enabling the assessment of future mining proposals to proceed with certainty and clarity. The bill will restore the necessary certainty and efficiency in decision making for mining developments in New South Wales without reducing the requirements for environmental impact assessment of such developments nor the associated public participatory processes under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979. If no steps are taken to resolve the matter sound investment opportunities in New South Wales will be lost. In August 1995 this Government introduced State environmental planning policy 45 - Permissibility of Mining under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979, for the first time clarifying the planning requirements for major mining proposals.

SEPP 45 was made to specifically overcome the uncertainty, ambiguity and potential for delay surrounding the decision-making process of affected mining applications throughout New South Wales without compromising this State's stringent requirements for a thorough regime of environmental impact assessment and opportunities for public participation. I should emphasise that SEPP 45 does not make mining permissible where a planning instrument prohibits that type of development in an area outright. Nor does SEPP 45 dilute the environmental planning legislation's long-established and well-regarded requirements for thorough environmental impact assessment, opportunities for public participation and rights of appeal. These proposals - the validation of SEPP 45 and the approval of Bengalla with the toughest environmental prescriptions and controls of any mine in the State - are appropriately placed before the Parliament for resolution.

The role of the Government and the Parliament is to provide certainty, direction and leadership. By providing certainty for investment and job growth for the mining sector we are assuring the thousands of workers and their families throughout New South Wales of their futures and, of course, underpinning the economic strength and performance of our State. I granted conditional consent to the development of the Bengalla open-cut mine on 7 August 1995 after careful review of the environmental and economic merits of the project and a commission of inquiry. The project was approved as permissible with consent under SEPP 45. The overwhelming majority of people in the Hunter region have given their support to the Bengalla mine development going ahead. The local community, the shire council, the Bengalla Property Owners Association, the Muswellbrook Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Vine Watch, the Hunter Economic Development Corporation and, importantly, the local member for Upper Hunter, George Souris, have all given unqualified support to this project proceeding.

In the case of the Bengalla project, the Government does not want the opportunity to be lost for hundreds of jobs in the Hunter region, nor does it want the millions of investment dollars to be lost to New South Wales. Bengalla Mining Company has advised me that its senior management met with representatives from the Commonwealth Government's Development Allowance Authority on Thursday, 30 May 1996. I am advised that the discussions with the DAA were favourable and the Bengalla project satisfies key qualification criteria and is eligible for the development allowance. A major requirement of the pre-qualification criteria is that substantial commitment to the project must have occurred before 1 July 1996 and that the expected benefit of the allowance is in the order of $25 million to $30 million. This means that the project is at risk unless a decision is made before the end of this financial year.

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Consequently, the current status of the project and the likelihood of future appeals have compelled the Government to bring the matter before the Parliament so that it can decide the future of the proposal, and whether we wish to provide certainty to this mine and the mining industry across the State. But I stress that by validating SEPP 45 the Parliament will do more than allow the Bengalla project to proceed; it will provide certainty for planning controls for the mining industry in New South Wales and, in particular, the Hunter region. The Department of Urban Affairs and Planning has informed me of another four mining proposals in the same region as the Bengalla project. These are at various stages of the environmental assessment process and, if valid, SEPP 45 would apply to clarify the issue of permissibility. The total production value to be generated from these mines is estimated to be approximately $1.1 billion annually and $55.7 billion in total. That is $55.7 billion of investment, jobs and economic growth for this State and our nation.

The five coalmines involve a total development cost of over $950 million and would generate up to 1,100 jobs directly and a further 4,000 jobs indirectly. On all available evidence the overwhelming majority of people in the Hunter region want these mines to proceed. They want the jobs, the investment and the opportunities that would otherwise be lost if this bill does not proceed. Bengalla will create up to 500 jobs during construction and 300 jobs during operation and will involve a development cost of $370 million. The flow-on benefits in Muswellbrook, the Hunter region, the State and the nation are far too important to be placed at risk. Concern has been expressed by one wine grower in the region, Mr Ian Oatley of Rosemount, about the effect of the mine on his vineyard. Those concerns were exhaustively assessed over the past two years. All inquiries and assessments have found - as most honourable members would already know - that mines and vines can exist together, as they have done for generations in the Hunter region.

As the well-known and respected winemaker Brian McGuigan said at the Newcastle Business Club lunch which was reported in the Newcastle Herald of 9 August, "It is a great pity the two parties [Rosemount and Bengalla] couldn't live together and that Rosemount now seemed to be 'out on a limb' in its opposition and couldn't get off." Mr McGuigan said his own vineyard had co-existed with the old Saxonvale coalmine a kilometre away. He also went on to say that "most of us feel that it is a storm in a teacup" and, on the issue of coal dust and its effect on grape production, he said that coalmines today are very responsible and that a study had found that his vineyard tractors created more dust on grapes than his mine neighbour. In granting consent I placed the most stringent - the toughest - conditions and environmental restrictions ever placed on a mine.

The Bengalla mine application has undergone an exhaustive and repeated environmental assessment of its potential impacts. I have ensured that the development will need to perform to particularly high operating standards to comply with the stringent environmental conditions I have imposed on the consent. In summary, 30 conditions containing more than 90 controls have been imposed on the mine - including stringent conditions to prevent dust from affecting surrounding areas. By leave, I will table my determination and the conditions of consent associated with the Bengalla mine. In brief, heads of consideration for the approval are as follows: one, operation of the development; two, duration; three, heritage items; four, landscaping; five, visual amenity; six, authorities requirements; seven, blasting; and eight, environmental management plan requirements. Condition 9 deals with the need to establish an environmental officer to deal with environmental safeguards. Condition 10 deals with water management.

Condition 11 deals with financial contributions. Condition 12 deals with land management plans. Condition 13 deals with coal handling transportation; condition 14 , roads; 15, rehabilitation; 16, lighting; and 17, air quality. Consideration 18 deals with noise; 19, dust suppression; 20, rental housing; 21, land acquisition; 22, bush fire; 23, informing council; 24, transmission lines; 25, community consultative committee; 26, dispute resolution; 27, independent environmental audit; 28, complaints procedures; 29, underground mains; and 30, agricultural productivity. Compliance with these conditions will be monitored by an independent environmental audit and reported to the community. A community consultative committee will be set up to provide direct and ongoing input from residents and other land-holders. These stringent controls should put to rest any fears that the mine could affect community health or other local industries.

It is now time to bring the years of conflict and uncertainty to an end. It is time to recognise that the only way that the dispute over the Bengalla mine will ever end is for the Parliament to make a decision one way or the other. The representatives of the people of New South Wales must now decide. I place on record my thanks to the Opposition and, in particular, the honourable member for Upper Hunter for the support they have indicated. That support demonstrates to the people of this State that their Parliament, despite its usual adversarial role, is capable of bipartisanship - of being constructive - of putting the interests of all of the people of this State ahead of sectional interests and, in the end, creating jobs, investment and growth. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned on motion by Ms Machin.

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