The controversial review into the operations and in fact the very existence of the state's Independent Planning Commission (IPC) is accepting public submissions.
The review was requested by Minister for Planning and Public Spaces Rob Stokes following a 'mistake' made by the IPC in releasing its determination into the Rix's Creek South extension too early.
This was preceded by harsh criticism of the IPC by the NSW Minerals Council following the Commission's determination to reject the Bylong Coal Project and its decision to give limited approval to the reopening of the Dartbrook underground mine near Aberdeen.
Minister Stokes has requested the Productivity Commissioner Peter Achterstraat AM to conduct the review and report back to the Minister by mid-December 2019.
Among those to criticise any watering down of the IPC's powers was the former Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) commissioner David Ipp, QC who was quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald saying such a move was 'a recipe for corruption'.
The former assistant ICAC commissioner Anthony Whealy, QC in the same article said the IPC was "a crucial accountability agency" and the review was announced "under pressure from the Minerals Council of NSW".
"This raises questions about the vested interests of the Minerals Council and the impact that is having on our accountability institutions," Mr Whealy said.
Friends of the Upper Hunter who campaigned against the Dartbrook reopening said "We're deeply concerned that the lobbyists from the NSW Minerals Council have prompted this review into the Independent Planning Commission - we see it as an attack on mining affected communities and on our ability to participate in the planning process on something that resembles an even playing field."
"Make no mistake, communities like ours are the underdog every time a mining company lodges an application. Mining companies are winning in more than 95% of their applications as it is and we're the ones experiencing the dust, noise and pollution, and investment uncertainty that too much mining creates. If we don't have an Independent Planning Commission this situation will go from bad to worse."
"We may not always agree with the decisions of the IPC - particularly when you consider that mining applications in the Hunter Valley have been approved in around 95% of cases - but they are one of the few ways that communities like ours can have any impact on the planning process. Without them, we think the current imbalance between the interests of mining companies and the economic and physical wellbeing of our communities would be even more severe."
"This review has the potential to take away the Independent Planning Commission - one of the very few protections that the community has from unrestrained mining development. Friends of the Upper Hunter would urge every community member interested in the sustainability and prosperity of our region to have their say before the review closes on 15 November."
Terms of Reference Review of Independent Planning Commission
The Independent Planning Commission is a statutory body whose function is primarily to act as consent authority in relation to State significant development. The Commission is not subject to Ministerial control other than in relation to its procedure.
As we approach 40 years of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (Act) and noting the evolution over this time of the function of determining State significant development from the Minister to an independent body, the Minister for Planning and Public Spaces has requested a review of the Commission's role and operations (Review).
The Terms of Reference for the Review are:
- To recommend whether it is in the public interest to maintain an Independent Planning Commission, considering, where relevant, the experience with similar bodies in other common law jurisdictions;
- To make recommendations in relation to the Independent Planning Commission's operations and the mechanisms by which State significant development is assessed and determined; and
- Having regard to the above, identify any proposed changes to the Independent Planning Commission's current functions, processes for making determinations, and resourcing.
The issues to be considered include but are not limited to: Thresholds for the referral of matters to the Independent Planning Commission; The clarity and certainty of policies and guidelines that inform determinations; The Commissioners' skills, expertise and qualifications; The adequacy of mechanisms to identify and resolve any conflicts of interest by commissioners; The Independent Planning Commission's procedures and guidelines; The extent to which the Independent Planning Commission should rely upon the assessment report prepared by the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, taking into account any additional assessments by other Government agencies; Resourcing of the Independent Planning Commission and the mechanism for determining budgetary support; and Whether the Independent Planning Commission's Secretariat should be employed directly by the Independent Planning Commission or provided by another Government agency, and if so, which agency.
The Review is due to be provided to the Minister by mid December 2019