IPC faces chop after NSW mine debacles

 

The Independent Planning Commission is officially on notice with a top level review to consider whether the state even needs the powerful oversight body - charged with final sign off on our biggest developments - in its current form.

After a string of highly contested decisions relating to major NSW mining developments, state cabinet has signed off on a wide ranging review to assess whether "it is in the public interest to maintain an Independent Planning Commission".

It will also consider the "skill, expertise and qualifications" of the commissioners and conflicts of interest.

NSW Planning and Public Spaces Minister Rob Stokes. Picture: Bianca De Marchi
NSW Planning and Public Spaces Minister Rob Stokes. Picture: Bianca De Marchi

The review comes as the NSW government and planning Minister Rob Stokes have been targeted in a major mining industry ad campaign led by the Minerals Council over delays and uncertainty in the planning system and decisions by the IPC.

These included rejecting a Bylong Valley coal mining proposal partly on the basis that the mine would increase "scope 3" greenhouse gas emissions in Korea.

A bungle two weeks ago by the IPC, in which it announced it had approved the Rix's Creek mine extension and then within hours had to retract the decision, officially sparked Mr Stokes to order the review.

However, the review's full terms of reference, which have been prepared for cabinet, show the scope of the review goes much further than how this mistake occurred.

As well as considering if the IPC is in the public interest, the review will make recommendations about the IPC's operations and the "mechanisms by which state significant development is assessed and determined".

It will identify and propose changes relating, but not limited to, the threshold for the referral of matters to the IPC and the clarity and certainty of policies and guidelines that inform decisions.

Coal truck hauling 172 metric tons of coal at Bloomberg Mine, Rix's Creek North. Picture: Troy Snook
Coal truck hauling 172 metric tons of coal at Bloomberg Mine, Rix's Creek North. Picture: Troy Snook

Minister Stokes said that "NSW is open for business".

"While we need a referee for some planning decisions, every referee needs a health check from time to time," he said.

Minister Stokes said independent expert decision making had been fundamental to ensure transparency and prevent corruption, but that the decisions must always be "quick, clear and clean".

"This review is an opportunity to reflect on how we can better serve communities where major projects are proposed and provide clearer processes for investors at the same time."

The Daily Telegraph recently revealed that major mining investors considered there to be significant sovereign risk in NSW as a result of the IPC's processes.

It is understood Minister Stokes has applied pressure to the Commission since taking on the portfolio to speed up its decision making.

Former NSW Auditor General Peter Achterstraat will lead the review.

He has earned the trust of successive Ministers after he famously found a $1 billion error in the state's accounts in 2012 and told the government the state was "a billion dollar business not a school tuckshop".

Treasurer Dominic Perrottet appointed Mr Achterstraat as the state's first productivity commissioner last year, with the prime task of cutting red tape in NSW.