THE community has once again been left in the dark, after the NSW government knocked back a freedom of information request regarding its negotiations around the Chinese-backed Shenhua coal mine.
While Lock the Gate received some documents from its Government Information Public Access (GIPA) request, the bulk were refused or redacted on the grounds of commercial and cabinet confidence.
The environmental group is pursuing documents that would provide insight into the government’s decision to buy back half of Shenhua’s exploration licence for $262m, when it could have legally halved the licence for free. The NSW Mining Act says renewed exploration licences are “not to exceed half of the area” of the original licence.
Lock the Gate NSW coordinator Georgina Woods said none of the documents the organisation received “made any mention of the $262m transaction”.
Officially, the mine’s application for a renewed exploration licence is still under consideration, Ms Woods is concerned the deal has already been done.
“We know that if Shenhua is granted a mining licence, it has to pay the government $200m,” she said.
“The government basically agreed to give Shenhua the money it will be required to give back.
“That $200m mining licence fee was a big barrier to Shenhua, it was a big commitment. The government has removed that barrier and made it much easier for the mine to go ahead.”
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There is growing speculation in Gunnedah a verdict will be reached soon, given Shenhua’s application has been under consideration for more than 18 months.
However, NSW Resource Minister Don Harwin says no decision had been made.
“The Department of Planning and Environment’s Division of Resources and Geoscience is considering the renewal application,” Mr Harwin’s spokesperson said.
However, former New England MP and vocal critic of the mine, Tony Windsor, thinks otherwise.
“It’s a done deal in my view,” Mr Windsor said.
“I’d be 98 per cent certain that a deal has been done. That doesn’t mean that the other two per cent can’t win if the right pressures are applied – look at the greyhound debate.
“The body language of the various players gives the plot away I think. I’ve got no doubt buying back the piece of land that never going to mine anyway was part of a double shuffle to show there has been a compromise.”
Shenhua declined to comment.