Opinion: Baird must honour commitment to smooth way for more jobs

May 05, 2015

Speak to any business owner in the Hunter and they can tell you the region is going through a jobs crisis. 
While the state government celebrates the fact the unemployment rate for NSW is at 6per cent, below the national average of 6.1per cent, the Hunter’s unemployment rate is nearly 13per cent – more than twice the statewide figure.
There’s no doubt the region has borne the brunt of the downturn in mining with  about 4000 jobs lost in the industry over the past two years. When mining hurts, businesses across the region feel the impact and more jobs are lost.
What we are seeing is a jobs crisis that needs immediate attention. We need state and federal infrastructure investment in our mining regions to support their continued growth. We need a federal and state tax regime that recognises the contribution that mining already makes through royalties. We need councils to work together with miners to plan local infrastructure requirements, training and land use needs.
Most significantly, the NSW planning system must be fixed. Addressing the time that critical projects take to be assessed by the Planning Assessment Commission should be a high priority if the NSW government is serious about supporting jobs in the Hunter.
Recently, Premier Mike Baird visited workers at Rio Tinto’s Mount Thorley Warkworth and Anglo American’s Drayton South mines, where 1800 families anxiously wait to see if their jobs will be supported. 
PricewaterhouseCoopers research estimates that about 20,000 jobs are under threat or in limbo, associated with projects   caught up in the planning system, including about  6000 jobs in the Hunter.
The problem has become acute over the past six years, with assessment time frames for major infrastructure projects in NSW doubling from an average of 500 days to more than 1000 days.
In the lead-up to the election, Mr Baird gave a line-in-the-sand commitment to halve the average assessment time of state significant projects, including mining.
The Premier’s commitment came with a welcome assurance that the stringent environmental standards that apply in NSW will remain firmly in place.
Now that the Premier has been re-elected, it’s time for these commitments to become action. 

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