27 November 2018
The NSW Labor opposition today called on NSW Energy Minister Don Harwin to resign immediately.
NSW Shadow Minister for Industry, Resources and Energy, Adam Searle, said that Minister Harwin had proved himself to be incapable of running his portfolio in light of recent revelations disclosed by the Newcastle Herald that a mid-level employee of the Department of Planning married to a person employed in the mining industry played a key role in allowing mining company Ridgelands’ attempt to cut its community fund from $5 million to $500,000.
This is despite the $5 million fund being a condition of Ridgeland’s exploration licence and despite Ridgeland’s failure to publicise the fund as required under the exploration license.
The Newcastle Herald revealed that the employee of the Department of Planning said the Department had ‘no objections’ to a significant decrease in Ridgeland’s work program, which the firm was required to complete within the duration of the licence. This included the establishment of its community fund.
Given the department’s support for the reduction, Minister Harwin and his department have questions to answer as to whether the department played a role in the decision not to prosecute Ridgeland’s because it was an apparent co-offender in the fund’s reduction.
Mr Searle said he was shocked that Mr Harwin’s Department appeared to have been colluding with Ridgelands to breach the conditions of its exploration licence.
Mr Searle also said he was deeply concerned about allegations recently referred to the ICAC about an agricultural land objection to a NSW mine was not assessed before the mine was approved.
The Department denied receiving the objection but it was produced by a departmental employee shortly after the licence was granted in October 2017. The person who made the application was only informed that their objection was found in September 2018.
Mr Searle said Minister Harwin should resign immediately in light of his inability to control his portfolio and to ensure that the integrity of his department.
Quotes attributable to Shadow Minister for Energy, Adam Searle:
“This latest revelation shows that Minister Harwin has been asleep at the wheel while things in his portfolio get out of control. Enough is enough. The Minister must now resign.
“The Opposition has been pursuing the Ridgelands Community fund matter since February and the Minister has failed to be upfront about the problems within the Resources and Geosciences Division of the Planning Department, the attempts to vary the Ridgelands Community fund obligation, or the links the departmental officer who appears to have done this has with the mining industry.
“Minister Harwin has dodged and weaved all year on these issues. He now needs to come clean and inform the community what he and his department knew and when.
“There must be a full external inquiry into the administration of the department regarding mining titles, to restore public confidence.”