Possible portfolio ‘clean slate’ with Hartcher's resignation

FARMERS and environmentalists opposed to mining in prime agricultural areas are hopeful the shock resignation of NSW Energy and Resources Minister Chris Hartcher from his portfolio will pave the way for a “clean slate”.

Mr Hartcher announced yesterday morning he would step down from his cabinet post, after being served with a search warrant by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).

“I have today informed the Premier of my resignation as a minister in the NSW government,” he said in a statement.

“I am confident I will be cleared of any wrongdoing.”

Mr Hartcher was a key player in several pieces of legislation, including the Petroleum (Onshore) Amendment Bill, which critics claimed gave too much power to the mining industry at the expense of landholders.

Gurley farmer Penny Blatchford said Mr Hartcher’s resignation provided the O’Farrell government a chance to install a new minister who could “start from scratch”.

“NSW residents are needing a minister to step up and restore balance to the Petroleum (Onshore) Act, granting farmers the right to say no,” she said.

“Mr Hartcher was more intent on looking for opportunities to give backdoor entry to the desperate coal seam gas industry. Farmers and community members from across the North West hope a new minister will be more inclusive of community participation and not as divisive.”

Lock the Gate Alliance campaign co-ordinator Carmel Flint said a broad-ranging inquiry must be held into the management of coal and coal seam mining in NSW.

“Chris Hartcher is the third minister for minerals resources to fall under the shadow of ICAC investigation this year, following corrupt conduct findings against former ministers Eddie Obeid and Ian MacDonald,” she said.

“The community has lost all faith in the integrity of the ministers who control mining in this state and can no longer trust the NSW government to put the interests of the wider public ahead of the profit-driven agenda of mining companies.”

Tambar Springs grazier David Quince said whoever took over the portfolio would need to be more open and transparent with the public.

“We are looking for a new minister who is willing to restore community trust and protect our precious farmlands, water resources and communities from mining and coal seam gas intrusion,” he said.

Media reports suggest ICAC targeted Mr Hartcher after allegations two of his staff members funnelled political donations through a front company before the 2011 state election.

Mr Hartcher said he would continue to serve as member for Terrigal while awaiting the conclusion of ICAC’s investigation.

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