Business leaders say govt needs to 'get real' about coal and the Hunter economy

October 22, 2014

Hunter Valley business leaders have labelled the NSW planning system 'onerous' and 'unreasonable' following the likely loss of at 500 local jobs in mining and the supply chain.
The Muswellbrook Chamber of Commerce and Industry says the Planning Assessment Commission's decision to reject the Drayton South Project, which had already been endorsed with conditions by the NSW Department of Planning and Environment, will send a negative message to the Muswellbrook business community which is already feeling the pressure of the loss of jobs in the industry. 
Chamber President Mike Kelly says the local economy is tied to the coal industry and he's concerned that there is too much focus on how mines can coexist with other industries rather than looking at a more collaborative approach. 
"We have other industries as well and have ample evidence that mining can co-exist with agriculture, grazing, tourism, viticulture and horse breeding," he said.
"The problem here is that the mining industry is the only one who is required to consider everyone else's concerns and obliged by law to co-exist. Most of the other industries seem to think it is all about them and the 'common good' is not considered.
"It's time to 'get real' about our economy and acknowledge our dependence on coal. This resource and it's economic benefits will not last for ever but until we see a viable and sustainable alternative, we have to make to most of it."
The rejection of the Drayton South Project is likely to lead to the loss of 500 jobs for workers at the existing Drayton mine and Mr Kelly is worried that will have a negative impact on the rest of the community.
"Many Drayton employees are Muswellbrook residents and losing their jobs will cause many to join the ranks of the unemployed or leave town," he said.
​"​Those businesses trading directly with Drayton will have to reassess their cost structures and this could mean further retrenchments and cut backs. We are waiting to hear from Anglo how they plan to wind down the operation to a conclusion in the next year or two.
​"​There are many in the Muswellbrook business community who see this decision not only as unfair, but as unrealistic and floored. The thoroughbred industry has succeeded in convincing the PAC that perception overrides science and economic rationale. If decisions are going to be made on this basis, then business can either play the same game or walk away.​"
There has been little response from the NSW Government to the PAC's decision and little by way of recognition for the 500 affected employees and their families. Mr Kelly is now calling on the NSW Government to act immediately to fix the planning system to return confidence to the community. 
​"The mining industry has to comply with numerous legal and regulatory requirements and has to promote their projects on fact, science and compliance with onerous conditions. So, playing the game of arguments based on perception and hysteria is not really an option​," Mr Kelly said.
"The danger for Muswellbrook and the whole Hunter is that mining companies walk way because they can't justify the expense of participating in a process that is so unreasonable.
​"​The State Government has to act immediately to fix the planning process and give confidence to investors and implement a planning process which recognises scientific and economic realities.
​The Muswellbrook Chamber of Commerce and Industry says it will work with Anglo American and local businesses to ​help people affected by the PAC's decision to ​find local employment​. 

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