OPINION: Hunter coal mines drive state growth

July 14, 2015

This opinion piece originally appeared on the Daily Telegraph on July 13 2015

Jobs are the central pillar that underpins the economic, social and even environmental stability of regional communities throughout NSW, including the Hunter.
Rising unemployment impacts upon every facet of life in the region.
So when the NSW government talks about "getting the balance right" on planning policy, you would think that supporting jobs would be at the core of their strategy.
The Hunter is the second largest region in NSW, and a key driver of overall state growth.
It's also home to a large part of our mining industry which contributes around a third of the economic activity of the region, and a large bulk of our state's exports, including coal. Unemployment in the Hunter is currently over 11 per cent, or twice the NSW average, and nearly four times the unemployment rate of the North Shore of Sydney.
Many Hunter communities are suffering badly from a hard economic downturn that feels like a regional recession.
However, instead of making decisions that protect jobs and support one of the largest employment drivers in the region - mining - the NSW government wants to move the goal posts on NSW planning laws, putting thousands of Hunter jobs at risk.
The government is proposing to change the mining State Environmental Planning Policy to remove a critical component designed to protect jobs.
The measure to be removed was introduced by the government only a few years back.
It was intended to ensure an appropriate balance between economic, environmental and social factors in project assessments, and it worked within a wider planning framework that put environmental and social impacts at the centre of the planning process.
To make it even worse, there's been no clarity from the NSW government that this change won't be retrospective.
This means that projects currently in the planning system could be affected by a last minute rule change, even those at the final stages of assessment.
This has the potential to kill off 1800 jobs at two projects in the Hunter Valley at key stages in the approval process, and make it even more difficult for other job-generating projects in the future.
This also sends a bad signal to the world about NSW as a place to invest.
Those considering investing in job-generating projects here in NSW will quite rightly want to know if the rules could be changed on them too.
It's a bad look for a state government that prides itself on describing NSW as "open for business".
The state economy is currently buoyant thanks to a glut of stamp duty revenue from the Sydney housing market, and a burst of construction activity.
But that doesn't provide a long-term future for regions beyond Sydney that rely on other industries, like mining.
Decisions that hurt mining also hurt mining communities.
They also undermine the long-term economic security of our state.

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