Mining and Petroleum Legislation Amendment Bill 2022
(Debate, 30 March 2022, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
I support the Mining and Petroleum Legislation Amendment Bill 2022. I thank the Deputy Premier for his work in bringing the bill to the House. I also acknowledge the work of the member for Upper Hunter and the attention brought during the by-election to these issues that impact his community. By-elections are a great opportunity to draw attention to important issues in communities. I also know that the catastrophic fires and floods that have been dominating New South Wales' weather for a decade are a constant reminder that we need to do more to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the year 2100. Achieving this is going to be a mammoth task that will require far-reaching transformations in all parts of our society and our economy.
We know that the market has already moved towards a transition to renewable energy. Businesses, large and small, councils and government agencies are all transitioning. We know the New South Wales Government is taking important steps in this regard. The increase in demand for renewable energy has cut its price, making it the cheapest form of new energy to build. Increased demand and new technologies are also reducing the price of batteries and storage and making renewables reliable forms of energy. All this means that here in New South Wales we know that we are transitioning away and this will have an impact on coalmining communities, whether we like it or not. While this transition is vital for the future of our planet, the economic impacts in communities that heavily rely on coalmining and coal power could be devastating if there is not early planning to diversify those economies. These communities have provided the people of New South Wales—including in the inner city—with affordable power over hundreds of years and nobody wants to see them left behind during the transition that is ongoing.
As chair of the Committee on Environment and Planning inquiring into sustainability of energy supply and resources in New South Wales, I have heard about the urgent need to prepare coalmining communities to prevent economic shock. It is expected that all mines currently in operation will close by 2040. If we look at Singleton, where over 23 per cent of jobs come from mining, and at Muswellbrook, where over 21 per cent of jobs come from mining, we see clearly the potential impact of mining closures. During the inquiry we heard about serious disruption in regions that were not prepared for closures to coalmines or coal-fired power stations. An example of how not to do things is the closure of the Hazelwood Power Station in the La Trobe Valley in Victoria, where mass unemployment followed. But we also heard about transition success stories in Germany, where planning, investment, retraining and compensation protected communities and secured their support for change.
Our inquiry recommended a transition authority to prepare New South Wales communities affected by the phasing out of coal, roles that include new jobs, retraining, ensuring skills transfer and providing compensation. I also took this as a policy platform to the last election together with my fellow Independents, the member for Lake Macquarie and the member for Wagga Wagga. I strongly welcome the Mining and Petroleum Legislation Amendment Bill 2022 that will create the Royalties for Rejuvenation Fund and expert panels to help diversify the economies of affected coalmining communities. It is an excellent starting point to prepare coal-dependant communities for change and economic diversification. For too long the wants and needs of these regions have been used for political point scoring. Jobs in coal-dependent communities have been used as an excuse at times to stop the work to transition or modernise our energy supply. This has only delayed the inevitable and the failure to prepare has now left some communities more vulnerable to economic shock when they could have been benefiting from the growth in new innovative sustainable industries. The shift to renewables creates significant opportunities for coal workers to transfer their skills, but these regions will need coordination and resources to attract investment. The Government is establishing renewable energy zones in coal regions and this will bring green sustainable jobs through generation and transmission.
During the inquiry we heard about other potential economic benefits from green hydrogen, mine rehabilitation, agriculture, tourism and warehousing jobs. It was made clear during the inquiry that people in affected coalmining communities know that change is coming and desperately want the Government to help protect them from the impacts by undertaking proper transition planning, coordination, investment and preparation, informed by their local knowledge. The Royalties for Rejuvenation fund will start that process and bring new investment into the communities that need it. I believe that the fund can be improved with some minor changes to increase transparency, accountability and community involvement in its operation. I foreshadow that at a later stage I will move amendments to ensure that the public interest and principles of limiting the impacts on the environment are considered in funding decisions; there is a public register of projects funded and advice given from expert panels; expert panels can make recommendations on their own accord; and there is scope to establish consultation requirements for expert panels. I will discuss those amendments in greater detail when we get to the consideration in detail stage.
I am pleased to see this bill inject much-needed funds into diversifying economies in affected coalmining communities that are in urgent need of government leadership to ensure change results in a positive future. The money available through this fund is modest, given the task ahead. I ask the Minister to outline in his reply what further action the Government will take to create new sustainable jobs in coalmining communities to prevent any economic shock. I commend the bill to the House.
Consideration in Detail (amendments):
By leave: I move my amendments Nos 1 to 8 on sheet c2022‑035J in globo:
No. 1 Royalties for Rejuvenation Fund—consideration of Expert Panel advice, Page 24. Schedule 1, proposed section 292W(5)(a)(ii), lines 6 and 7. Omit "if requested by the Minister".
No. 2 Royalties for Rejuvenation Fund—further considerations. Page 24, Schedule 1, proposed section 292W(5)(a). Insert after line 7—
(iib)the public interest, and
(iic)whether the payment would lead to a negative impact on the environment, and
No. 3 Royalties for Rejuvenation Fund—public register. Page 24, Schedule 1, proposed section 292W. Insert after line 11—
(5A) The Secretary must—
(a)keep a public register on the Department's website of all programs and projects funded from the Rejuvenation Fund under subsection (5)(a), and
(b)update the register, as soon as practicable after the end of each quarter, with details of projects or programs funded or approved for funding from the Rejuvenation Fund.
No. 4 Expert Panels—giving advice. Page 24, Schedule 1, proposed section 292X(2)(a), line 34. Omit "at the request of the Minister,".
No. 5 Expert Panels—public consultation, Page 24, Schedule 1, proposed section 292X(4)(b). Insert after line 42—
Example— The regulations may provide that the Expert Panel is to undertake public consultation before giving certain advice or making certain recommendations.
No. 6 Expert Panels—public register of advice and recommendations. Page 25, Schedule 1, proposed section 292X. Insert after line 4—
(6A)The Secretary must—
(a)keep a public register on the Department's website of the following—
(i)the membership of each Panel,
(ii)a summary of the advice and recommendations given to the Minister by Panels under this section, and
(b)update the register as soon as practicable after the end of each quarter.
(6B)Despite subsection (6A)(a)(ii), the Secretary is not required to record information on the public register if, in the opinion of the Secretary, the information is commercial in confidence.
No. 7 Fit and proper persons—miscellaneous provision. Page 32, Schedule 1, proposed section 396(1), line 31. Omit "refused". Insert instead "rejected".
No. 8 Fit and proper persons—miscellaneous provision. Page 32, Schedule 1, proposed section 396(1)(d), line 45. Omit "refusal". Insert instead "rejection".
The amendments include provisions to ensure that expert panels can provide advice to the Minister whenever the panel identifies a need for investment in projects to help local communities prepare for change. The bill as drafted would limit panels from providing advice and recommendations only when the Minister requests them. That is an unnecessary constraint on expert panels, which should be free to inform the Minister of any programs or projects that could benefit affected coalmining communities. The amendments will require the Minister to consider the public interest and any damage to the environment before authorising funding for a project. The Royalties for Rejuvenation fund must provide long-term community benefits that prioritise the public interest over private profit, with investment going towards projects that are sustainable in the long term.
Environmental sustainability is important to people in affected coalmining communities. During the inquiry I chaired, I heard from people who felt that mining, while it brought economic prosperity, impacted on the air, the water and the soil, and as a result affected people's health. They do not want to see their local environment suffer further as their economies diversify. The amendments will also mandate a public register for all programs and projects funded by the Royalties for Rejuvenation fund. Expenditure from the fund should be publicly available because it is well known that transparency encourages the best decision-making. Local communities, industries, business groups and councils will want to know what investment will occur in their region to help create jobs and alleviate the impacts of mining closures. My amendments will ensure that the existing regulation-making powers for the operations of expert panels can include provisions for public consultation for certain advice and recommendations. It is appropriate for expert panels to consult with the communities they represent in order to understand the needs of the community, and the suitability of programs and projects because that can improve the advice and recommendations provided to the Minister.
The amendments also create a register, where a summary of advice and recommendations provided to the Minister by an expert panel is published. That will ensure that the public can assess that information and understand how decisions have been made. The register will also include the members of each expert panel so that the community knows who is representing them in the process. There is good reason to provide that information to the community. Inconsequential amendments also update the language used in the bill, including replacing a reference to "refused" with "rejected" and replacing a reference to "refusal" with "rejection". The Government alerted me to those errors and I am happy to make the changes as part of my suite of amendments. I thank the Deputy Premier for working collaboratively with me and the member for Lake Macquarie on improvements to the bill. The amendments are about transparency, accountability and public involvement. I commend the amendments to the House.