Neither the proponents or those opposed to modifications or even new open cut mines appear to be keen on attending and speaking at Planning and Assessment Commission (PAC) meetings.
Just a few years ago these meetings attracted large crowds with standing room only in the auditorium and pages of names of speakers for and against the development under review.
On the one side were the high-vis wearing mine workers, mine management and their public relations team and on the other residents from villages, community representatives and green groups, all coming together to argue the merits or otherwise of a coal project. There was passion on both sides. But today those same meetings attract only a handful of people in fact at the recent Hunter Valley Operations South Modification 5 meeting one would estimate there were more representatives from PAC than there were from the community or mine company involved in the project.
Yancoal the new owners did not even speak in favour of the proposal and only two people spoke against the modification.
It’s clear the concerned community and environmental groups have no faith in the PAC process despite the Commission being described as being independent. Protesters at the United Wambo Coal Project PAC hearing said all the Commission does is rubber stamp these projects. They argue that despite putting a great deal of work into their submissions nothing ever changes and the mines are simply approved following their recommendation for this to occur by the Department of Planning and Environment.
Another disheartening part of the process is the fact these mines are always approved with ‘strict conditions’ but the few speakers at the two PACs all voiced their frustration with the bureaucracy that regulates those conditions.
Once again despite repeated complaints nothing changes – air quality deteriorates, noise increases and their lives become unbearable. As Grace Murphy told the United Wambo PAC ‘the people who are impacted the most, gain the least.’
We need the State Government to step up and actually make the planning process work and make the compliance system work. For example we are still waiting to hear what the Environment Protection Authority is going to do about a mine blast In January that covered Jerrys Plains in dust.