David Ipp, QC, formerly a judge of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), believes the New South Wales Government’s mining licence approval process is at risk of corruption, particularly given its handling of the Ridgelands coal mine renewal in the state’s Upper Hunter region.
“When a government goes to the trouble of creating an elaborate procedure for the granting of mining tenements and doesn’t respect its own laws it’s a recipe for corruption,” he told NSW paper Newcastle Herald.
“There is little point in creating this elaborate process if the government doesn’t comply and respect its own procedures. It becomes an illusion.”
Hong Kong-based Ridgelands Resources was initially granted a five-year mining licence over 7600 hectares of land in Wybong in February 2013 by the NSW Government, with one of the company’s mining deed conditions being that it would pay $5 million into a community fund for the local Muswellbrook Shire Council.
However, Ridgeland Resources had only offered the council $500,000 of the $5 million by July 2017; Muswellbrook Council claimed it had no knowledge of the $5 million figure — a failure of declaration in possible contravention of the Mining Act — while Ridgelands Resources has claimed it doesn’t need to pay the $5 million. Handling of the situation has been referred to by locals and media as a failure of regulation on the part of the NSW Government.
Ipp said that the NSW Government’s acceptance of a subsequent licence renewal in the region for Ridgelands Resources was suggestive of corruption.
“They shouldn’t do it. Such a major breach causes a complete lack of respect for the processes,” he said. “People are encouraged just to ignore them. Those who are fairly trying to compete in this market are unfairly treated and discouraged.
“If the laws the government established do not provide for a second chance, then no second chance should be given. If a second chance is given then the government is creating an exception outside the law.”