Bulga residents fighting Rio Tinto’s expansion of Mount Thorley Warkworth mine say the Independent Commission Against Corruption is taking its referral seriously after asking for more evidence.
The Bulga-Milbrodale Progress Association lodged the complaint with the ICAC after the Planning Department recommended approval for the extension two business days after the public submission period closed.
Spokesman John Krey says the group is now preparing to give the ICAC more information, ABC reported.
"We have the evidence there that the government was in effect in bed with the mining companies on these matters," he said.
(Asking for more information) "demonstrates to us that they've taken our claim very seriously, and we're very happy to provide that information of course."
"We have various items of correspondence that were sent to the government, pointing out the problems that we saw and of course the responses back from the government to us, which didn't properly address the matter."
Rio lodged its response to the 1081 public submissions on the project one day after the public exhibition period closed on November 29.
The Department then recommended the expansion for approval on December 4.
The group says this shows evidence that due process was not being followed.
"The mine responded within one day, and the government had produced its report within two days, so you'd have to say what in the hell is going on with it," Krey said.
"How is this possible? To us, this appears to be a flagrant abuse of due process.
A Rio Tinto spokesman said the company had followed due process in its submissions to expand the mine.
"The minor modification, which will enable the mine to continue operating as close as possible to existing production levels and protect the jobs of 1300 workers for the next two years, has been prepared as a matter of urgency," he said.
"After four years of consultation and assessment for the Warkworth extension project, it is disingenuous to claim that this minor modification affecting only a very small part of the previous proposal needs to be further delayed."
Meanwhile the public submission period on the extension plan is now closed after the department received wide-spread criticism that two weeks was not enough time for a substantial public response to the controversial project.
Almost 1000 of the 1128 original submissions made were in favour of the project, with Rio criticised for encouraging mine workers to make a large number of submissions in support of the project.
Since reopening the submissions period, the Planning Assessment Commission has received more than 250 additional submissions, along with several thousand emails opposed to the expansion.
Rio said production will fall and jobs could be at risk if the modification does not receive the green light.
“Coal & Allied stands by the accuracy of its application and the workforce of more than 1,300 people at Mount Thorley Warkworth mine await the Planning Assessment Commission's determination,” the miner said in a statement.