Premier's address at NSW Mining Industry & Suppliers Awards Dinner

November 25, 2014

NSW Mining Industry & Suppliers Awards Dinner, NSW Parliament, Sydney
20 November 2014
 
Address by NSW Premier The Hon. Mike Baird MP
 
 
This is our last day of Parliament and in many respects that is a good thing as it also provides a time for reflection. As I look back over the past year there’s many things I think we have done well, but there are other things we could have done better – and that’s what I want to talk about tonight.

With regard to the mining industry - it’s so fantastic to have them here – and it’s very appropriate that we’re celebrating tonight with the industry and there’s much to celebrate in the industry. The contribution it makes to this state and the ongoing prosperity and driving the economy is huge and significant. In many respects it’s an untold story.

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We look across at WA and QLD and we think ‘they’re the mining states’. Well look what the industry has done in this state. Well have a look at some of the contribution it makes to this state. There is a thriving and very critical part of the economy that is mining in NSW and it’s got a very, very proud history. So called plans to phase out mining in NSW have no place in this parliament and I’ll be very clear on this – no place.

The coal mining industry in NSW, in terms of jobs, we’ve seen the numbers and they’re huge. 23,000 directly and 90,000 indirectly. A huge contribution to the economy, about $13 billion and coal is NSW's largest export in value terms. 

We’ve heard from some world leaders, from Prime Minister Modhi and the vision he has for his country. They will need resources to meet that vision and they’ve been very specific about that.

Similarly China; what they underline is the importance of - and while tonight is a time to celebrate - and I think it’s great to have these awards to celebrate excellence and outstanding achievement – I also want to be honest with you about some of the challenges that have been impacting the industry. The Planning Minister and I acknowledge that there are challenges within the planning system; we’re not backing away from that. There are things that need to be done to improve it, that’s very clear. Securing approvals is not an easy process. Indeed it's complicated and at times it is difficult to get certainty and consistency. 

Whilst high environmental standards and increased rigour in our assessment along with community consultation are necessary reforms, at times they have come at the expense of efficiency and certainty for investment outcomes. In the context of further global market uncertainty, there are challenges, I understand. Having previously worked in finance I know what it is like for companies to have to compete on a global cost curve. 

If your position on the cost curve doesn’t line up in global terms it creates huge challenges. So the commodity prices and the dollar have been creating real issues for the sector. I think our processes have put additional pressure on [the industry] and I want to acknowledge that.

I think we inherited a planning system that wasn’t wonderful in any way – there were all types of challenges and problems we inherited. We went about reforming the system but that was blocked in the upper house. But I am committed to addressing these concerns head on. In the last six years - and this is the statistic that really grabs me - as the Planning Minister and I started analysing challenges within the system; how are these processes actually applying on a day to day basis; we’ve seen that large mining proposals have gone from taking around 500 days to determine – and this is in the last six years – to over a thousand days. 

I understand what that means. There is capital that sits there waiting to be deployed. How does a business manage capital, when you don’t know how long it’s going to take? How do you hold capital for 1000 days? The cost of that is incredible and we need to be conscious of that. It’s unacceptable. I say that here tonight; it’s unacceptable, that delay in the processes. 

I am, tonight, drawing a line in the sand. NSW must do better and I assure you we will.

Tonight I commit the government to halving the assessment times for major projects during the next term of government. We will be cutting it in half from where we are today.

It is a commitment we will begin implementing immediately and pursue with vigour if re-elected.

There’s no reduction in our commitment to environmental standards or community engagement and I know you as a sector are very proud of what you do and your environmental standards and your desire to co-exist. The importance of coexisting; coexisting with communities and ensuring we look after the environment as part of your operations. So there is no reduction to our commitment to that or community engagement, but I think it’s about time we had some accountability for making decisions, within clear time frames. Greater accountability across the public sector. Tomorrow the Planning Minister will announce a suite of reforms for the processing of major mining proposals. The key reforms to be implemented immediately, deliver a more streamlined and certain assessment process for major proposals includes giving clear direction to the PAC, about how it should apply government policies to its work. Reducing its discretion to freelance, where we have clear standards, procedures and processes. The introduction of clear timeframes for the PAC and government assessment processes and clear accountability for meeting these timeframes. We will appoint a case manger from my department, the DPC, to manage planning applications through government processes and be accountable to a Cabinet committee for delivering outcomes on time. 

Looking at these processes, the Planning Minister and I believe these immediate changes alone will deliver time frame savings of about 170 days for major projects. In addition the government is working closely with the NSW Minerals Council to finesse the key components of the integrated mining policy and will release the bulk of the reforms by the end of the year. 

The industry’s input into this key policy will be critical in providing the balance that we are striving to deliver. It will see for the first time in NSW a consolidated and comprehensive approach to the assessment of mining appraisals meaning greater certainty, more efficient government processes and faster outcomes.

I also wanted to talk, lastly, on community support for the mining sector. I am strongly of the view that the mining sector plays a hugely positive role and have made that very explicit tonight. Not just employing tens of thousands of workers but funding our hospitals our roads and schools through taxes and royalties. It’s a story that is broadly understood across the community and one that we should be proud of. I certainly know the vast bulk of people across NSW support the mining industry. 

I do respect that there are some in the community that don’t share my view and indeed choose to put forward their view loudly. But in some cases this is done illegally. Now I respect the right of protestors to be heard and indeed to protest loudly – it’s something we’re proud of in this state – but that right does not extend to unlawful activities. 

For too long protestors have entered sites illegally, damaged equipment and disrupted activities and escaped serious penalties. What’s even more galling for the industry is that the current legislation puts the responsibility for the safety of these protesters who enter mining sites illegally, on the mining companies and operators. I say now, that is not acceptable. 

The industry should not be responsible for the actions of protesters who unlawfully enter mining sites and deliberately set out to inflict damage and delay mining operations. We need legislation that provides a real deterrent to this unlawful behaviour and protects businesses from illegal protesting activities. If we win government in 2015 we will crack down on this illegal practice with legislation in this parliament. If you chose to break the law when you protest, we will throw the book at you.

It cannot continue and it won’t continue if we win the next election. So we are certainly committed to halving the assessment time frames and you have my commitment that we will follow through on this. We will hold all of us collectively in cabinet to account and senior executives in our government to account. Time frames will be stuck to, they must be. People will be held accountable, we must abide by them, we must deliver by them and that is the culture we want to see out there.

When the timeframe comes through, everything must be done to ensure it is met. 

The processes must continue, the environmental assessments must continue, community consultation must continue, but a timeframe is a timeframe and we committing to reduce those.

What I have announced tonight should go some way to demonstrating this, but its very clear; I am committed as Premier of this state to the mining sector and when see those videos and I see those stories, I want to those workers to be clear, I am by their side. Our government’s by their side. We understand their story, we understand the history and we understand the opportunities mining provides to the people of NSW.

We have a proud state and we have absolute deep commitment to protecting the environment, to ensuring the highest possible community consultation alongside that high environmental assessment, but as we heard, we can coexist. 

Co-existence will be a priority should we be given the opportunity. So I say tonight that we have not done as well as we should have. That’s the honest appraisal. I know the challenges you are facing both in a global context and the challenges that have come from interacting with our planning system.

But I want to give you this commitment; we will do everything possible to deliver the assessment reductions and the overall understanding that mining is a critical part of the economy and we are here to support you.

So thank you for what you do. Thank you for those who are going to be celebrating tonight, whoever wins the awards. All the best and I am sure it’s very deserving.

I say this, as we heard in the video, this is a tough time for the industry, but the industry has faced tough times before. That is part of the endearing character of this industry. The souls, the characters within it are made of tough stuff. 

So as you go through these difficult times you go with our best wishes. We know we have a role to play in helping you go about your business and we will do our part. 

In the meantime, we look forward to working with you and I thank Steve Galilee of his leadership of the NSW Minerals Council. He does a fantastic job. Certainly I think we have a great opportunity to work together in the months and years ahead.Thank you.

 

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