Friday 11 April 2014

Conflicts of interest in mining community consultation committees and land access disputes

The Newcastle Herald reported yesterday that 'the state government’s oversight of committees set up to give communities a say on mining projects has been called into question over criticisms their membership is open to conflicts of interest'.

Specifically, the independence of 'Inglenook' community consultative committee (CCC) chair, Margaret McDonald-Hill, has been called into question. Ms McDonald-Hill oversees 11 CCCs. She is chairwoman of a committee for an exploration project, a reference group for the proposed Wallarah 2 mine, and AGL’s Hunter and Camden coal seam gas committees, for which she is paid by AGL via the Department of Trade and Investment. She is also on the Mine Subsidence Board, on the government’s panel of arbitrators, and has been approached to join federal industry minister Ian Macfarlane’s NSW CSG taskforce aimed at kick-starting industry activity.

Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham said Ms McDonald-Hill’s roles 'overlap and seem to create significant conflicts of interest' . He said in a press release: 'Undeclared payments directly from the mining company undermine the independence of the chair and the community’s confidence in the CCC.  The current system means that the community often perceives the "independent chair" as simply a stooge of the mining company.Bylong Valley Protection Alliance spokesman Craig Shaw said there was little evidence the Department of Trade and Investment screened for potential conflicts of interests, with Ms McDonald-Hill’s appointment an example.

We hope that the state government responds by undertaking a comprehensive overhaul of the system, showing the people of NSW that they take the roles of CCC chair and independent arbitrator seriously so that the community can begin to have some trust in the process. It seems all too clear that at present the government could not care less and the mining companies are happy to exploit the flawed system as far as they can.

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