In July last year I was asked to speak at a town meeting in regional NSW, where the local community was suffering from local mining job losses.
A young schoolteacher stood up and told of children coming to her school with empty lunch boxes because of the impact of mining job losses on family budgets.
That town was Lithgow.
Last week, the NSW government had the chance to turn this around. It had the opportunity to stand up for local jobs and to provide opportunities for a community reeling from rising unemployment by protecting mining jobs, in an historic mining region, where almost 800 mining jobs have been lost in the past two years.
The Coalpac consolidation project had the support of the NSW Planning Department, NSW Treasury and the Department of Trade and Investment. It had the support of the local council, the hardworking local MP, and the wider local community.
You would think the NSW government would support mining projects that provide mining jobs in a mining region.
Instead the NSW government failed the town and its people.
The abdication of its decision making powers to a faceless panel, the Planning Assessment Commission (PAC), was a nail in the coffin for the people of Lithgow.
With no compulsion to stand up for local jobs, the PAC was swayed by out-of-town activists and protesters.
In the wake of this job-destroying decision, another mine near Lithgow has announced that it will be going into care and maintenance, with about 170 further job losses that will add to the economic downturn in the region.
The professional activists who opposed the Coalpac project have no regard for local communities or local employment.
They travel like locusts from mine project to mine project across NSW, attempting to derail proposals that would provide desperately needed jobs. They aren’t members of the local CWA or business chamber.
You won’t see them down at the RSL or watching their kids play soccer and netball on the weekend. You won’t see them at the next school weekend working bee. By then they will have moved on to the next target.
Meanwhile, local communities like Lithgow are made to suffer.
There are currently 20,000 mining jobs caught up in the NSW planning system. This includes 14,000 potential new jobs and 6000 current jobs.
Given the state of the planning system, all these jobs should be considered at risk.
For example, at Coal and Allied’s Mount Thorley Warkworth mine in the Upper Hunter, 1300 workers and their families are anxiously waiting on an approval to a modest expansion of the mine that is needed to save their jobs as Christmas approaches.
The loss of these jobs would be a massive blow for the Hunter economy.
It’s pretty clear that the NSW planning system is broken and needs to be fixed before more jobs are lost. But with over 4000 mining jobs lost in NSW over the past two years, is the NSW government listening?
Do they care?
Communities like Lithgow should not be paying the price for the NSW government’s failure. Premier Baird and his government must show some leadership, stand up for jobs, and fix the planning system.
This article is published with permission of the NSWMC. It originally appeared in full on the Daily Telegraph.