By JOANNE McCARTHY
April 3, 2015, 9:20 p.m.
NEW coal mine and coal seam gas guidelines allowing companies to withhold information from the public have been quoted by a Newcastle consultancy firm despite possibly needing NSW Cabinet approval before they’re released for public comment.
The NSW Department of Planning confirmed on Wednesday the draft guidelines, developed after scathing criticism of both the mining industry and the department over mine economic assessments, may need cabinet approval after Centennial Coal told the Newcastle Herald they were ‘‘cabinet in confidence’’ documents.
‘‘Following completion of the draft by the department, it is a matter for government whether the draft will have to be approved by cabinet before being released for community feedback,’’ a department spokesman said.
The department did not respond to a question about why Newcastle consultancy firm AIGIS Group quoted a section of the draft guidelines and a page number in a report in December.
The AIGIS report quoted the draft guidelines saying mining and coal seam gas projects were private sector investments which had certain ‘‘confidential and commercially sensitive’’ information that companies ‘‘do not need to show’’ in cost benefit analysis assessments.
The department also did not respond to a question this week about whether the draft guidelines will consider biodiversity offsets as a benefit to the community, after lobbying by the mining industry, which will enhance the economic argument for a mine project.
The proposal was ‘‘outrageous’’, said Nature Conservation Council chief executive Kate Smolski.
“The Baird government’s (mining planning policy) ensures economics trumps community and environmental interests, so the public must have a say in any changes to the way economic benefits of major projects is assessed,’’ Ms Smolski said.
“It’s outrageous that mining companies and planning bureaucrats are hammering out a deal behind closed doors to make biodiversity offsets an economic benefit to the community. We have seen time and again that when planning bureaucrats and coal companies make deals in secret, communities and the environment are losers.’’
The AIGIS Group referred questions to Centennial Coal.
Centennial Coal defended the biodiversity offsets proposal because ‘‘these ‘costs’ to business provide a long term benefit to the community that would otherwise not be realised’’.