News State NSW News Government urged to ditch mine licences

Government urged to ditch mine licences

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The holders of corruptly-approved coal mining licences in NSW will have one month to convince the state government not to cancel them in line with recommendations from the corruption watchdog.

An Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) report released on Wednesday follows its operations Jasper and Acacia, which found licences for Doyles Creek, Mount Penny and Glendon Brook were corruptly approved under the former NSW Labor government.

In its report, ICAC says the approvals were so tainted by corruption the licences should be expunged or cancelled and any pending applications regarding them refused.

Alternatively, the government could consider taking action to recover the profits or the damages made, or caused, by those investigated, ICAC said.

Wednesday’s report also recommended the NSW government consider enacting legislation to provide for the confiscation of the proceeds of the corruption.

Premier Barry O’Farrell said the government would wait for the leaseholders to make their case before taking action.

“On the basis of legal advice we’ll be giving those who hold those leases till the 15th of January to show cause why those recommendations shouldn’t be put in place,” he told reporters.

“The government will then consider its options and those options include, of course, whether we use the public interest test or whether we use special legislation.”

Mr O’Farrell said he wanted to “see an end to this sorry saga of Labor corruption”.

But he would not comment on whether the government would consider seizing assets or profits made by the leaseholders.

“I’m not going to be a commentator on ICAC reports until we go through the legal process, because I don’t intend to open the state up to any more legal action as a result of this issue,” he said.

But he did rule out amendments to the state’s planning laws.

ICAC suggested consideration be given to amending the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 to make clearer the public interest factors the minister should take into account.

Mr O’Farrell said the special interest test introduced earlier this year was sufficient.

Operation Acacia examined a Doyles Creek licence awarded in 2008 by then-mining minister Ian Macdonald to a consortium of investors that included former union boss John Maitland, who allegedly turned his initial $165,000 investment in the project into $15 million.

NuCoal Resources Ltd acquired that licence in 2010 and on Wednesday morning requested a trading halt ahead of the report.

Chairman Gordon Galt said NuCoal was “extremely disappointed” with the ICAC recommendation.

The company has maintained it is an “innocent party” and bought the licence in good faith.

Operation Jasper concerned Mr Macdonald’s decision to approve an area in the Bylong Valley for coal exploration, and whether that was influenced by Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid.

The ICAC inquiry into that decision heard that the NSW public was $100 million worse off because there was no competitive process to award the licence.