NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell has announced the cancellation of mining exploration licences that were the subject of serious corruption findings by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). The Commission found, after months of hearings, that the "granting of the authorities to Mt Penny and Glendon Brook were so tainted by corruption that those authorities should be cancelled".
The Mining Amendment (ICAC Operations Jasper and Acacia) Act 2014 (Act No 1 of 2014) provides for the cancellation of the Doyles Creek, Mt Penny and Glendon Brook licences that the ICAC found were tainted by corruption involving former Labor Ministers Ian Macdonald and Eddie Obeid. Both Mr Obeid and Mr Macdonald were ejected from the Labor Party last year, with Opposition Leader John Robertson proclaiming he would "clean up this show". Despite this, Mr Robertson drew criticism for not being in Parliament last week when the bill was voted on.
Premier Barry O'Farrell said:
"[t]he Leader of the Opposition is tough when it comes to speaking about Eddie Obeid and Ian Macdonald in front of TV cameras and microphones, but [he is] not prepared to come in here and be counted today to stand up and talk today in Opposition to what happened under their watch."
Nevertheless the Bill passed unanimously through both the Lower House and Upper House.
According to Mr O'Farrell,
“[t]he NSW Government has now acted to cancel these corrupt licences and right the wrong of the former Labor Government… A line has now been drawn under Labor’s dishonesty and the NSW Liberals & Nationals Government has taken action to address these corrupt actions which shocked the State to ensure it can’t happen again. The legislation requires all exploration data on the tenements to be provided to the NSW Government and provide that the licence holders will remain responsible for any necessary rehabilitation works on the sites.”
Under the new legislation, compensation for the mine's current owners, NuCoal and Cascade Coal will not be available.
The legislation has not been warmly received by stakeholders including Casecade Coal who issued a statement condemning the legislation.
"The combination of the cancellation of the exploration licences, the denial of compensation rights to innocent parties, the attempt to prevent the state from having any liability for its past conduct and the expropriation of exploration data and other valuable intellectual property represents extraordinary and unprecedented action by the NSW Government... This legislative action to confiscate private property rights and to deny access to judicial process is not based on a judicial determination of any kind or even on relevant ICAC findings but simply on Parliament 'being satisfied' ... that the grant of licences were tainted by serious corruption..."
While the matter may be far from over, for the moment it seems that the legislation will have an impact. Premier Barry O’Farrell stated clearly that the government has no immediate plans to re-release the relevant land ... but any future issuing of licences will be consistent with the ICAC’s recommendations on probity which the NSW Government has implemented.
“The bill is also about putting the state in as near as possible to the same position as it would have been had this corruption never occurred." he said.
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