AT THE same time the NSW government is upping the penalties for mining and coal seam gas protesters, it is drastically reducing the penalty for mining companies who break the rules.
Under proposed changes to the NSW Petroleum Act, the state government could choose to give mining companies ignoring notices or directions a $5000 penalty infringement notice (PIN) instead of a $1.1 million fine.
The Greens said the gulf between the PIN and the legislative penalty is so massive it undermines the force of the act.
Greens mining spokesman, Jeremy Buckingham, said the government was essentially providing itself the option to give mining companies a tiny slap on the wrist rather than significant fines and court proceedings.
“It makes no sense to have such low fines,” Mr Buckingham said.
“It does not create a disincentive for mining companies – it actually creates an incentive to do the wrong thing.
“There needs to be significant penalties in place to deter companies from breaking the law.”
The Leader asked the Division of Resource and Energy (DRE) why there was such a large gap between the PIN and the currently penalties, but it did not give a direct answer.
A DRE spokesperson said the “changes do not restrict DRE from bringing a full prosecution”.
“However, under the previous legislative framework, when DRE believed an illegal incident had taken place, the division would need to launch a full prosecution on these issues, regardless of the size or impact of the offence,” the spokesperson said.
“Under the new regime, the introduction of PINS and enforceable undertakings allows DRE to take more immediate action. The changes provide the regulators DRE with a wider range of enforcement powers ... and now allows DRE to choose the most appropriate action in response to any breach.”
Local members voted for changes
ON WEDNESDAY night the NSW parliament passed legislation for heavier penalties against mine and coal seam gas protesters who break the law, with both Tamworth MP Kevin Anderson and Northern Tablelands MP Adam Marshall voting in favour of the bill.
The new laws will see protesters caught trespassing on mining sites face a $5500 fine, up from $550.
It also amends the state’s Crimes Act to extend the crime of “interfering with a mine site” to CSG extraction and exploration sites instead of an existing focus on coal mines, which means anyone locking themselves to equipment could get a maximum jail sentence of seven years.
The Coalition backed the bill, with the support of Shooters and Fishers Party. The proposal also had the backing of Christian Democratic Fred Niles, despite Mr Niles attending a rally against the changes just hours before the vote.