THE backflip by the state government's planning department regarding two pipelines connecting a coal mine to water from nearby farms begs some serious questions.
Whitehaven Coal purchased a number of properties near its Maules Creek mine, and is using those properties to access groundwater it purchased earlier in the year, transporting it via a pipeline.
Construction started and straight away questions were raised if it was in line with the state's planning laws. However, the NSW Department of Planning, Industry, and Environment (DPIE) was firmly of the belief that no modification application was necessary.
On multiple occasions, the Leader asked the DPIE if Whitehaven needed to lodge development modifications, and every time the department wiped its hands of the situation.
The Leader asked DPIE if, given the pipeline was outside the mine's boundary, Whitehaven needed to lodge a modification as per the state's planning laws - at the time DPIE responded there were a "number of approval pathways for development outside of an approved mine boundary".
DPIE also said it understood the pipeline had all the necessary approvals it needed from other organisations, such as Narrabri council and the water watchdog, the Natural Resource Access Regulator (NRAR).
The department was so firm in its belief that the pipeline didn't need a planning modification it stated "any further questions about this matter should be directed to the mining company or NRAR".
Now the DPIE has changed its stance, forcing Whitehaven to submit retrospective modification applications for the two pipelines the company has already finished constructing.
But it begs the question - what is the point of planning laws if big companies can just flout them?
What's the point of a planning department if it doesn't enforce its laws?
If retrospective applications are allowed, then what's to stop them from becoming the norm?
This whole situation reeks of an "easier to seek forgiveness than permission" attitude.