Ombudsman to investigate coal conflicts of interest

Allegations of conflicts of interest within the Planning and Assessment Commission (PAC) are under investigation by the NSW Ombudsman.

The allegations have been made by the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) with concerns about the interests of PAC members, both financial and otherwise.

EDO senior solicitor Elaine Johnstone raised the allegations in a letter to the NSW Ombudsman.

“Our client has identified a number of specific incidents which demonstrate that the procedures for managing conflicts within the PAC are inadequate and that some PAC members have interests in the mining industry outside of their role as PAC members,” she wrote.

“PAC commissioners are exercising a quasi-judicial function and it is important that PAC proceedings are independent and conducted with transparency… Our client is concerned that the PAC fails to conduct public hearings in a way that is consistent with its quasi-judicial role.”

The PAC was formed in November 2008, with further powers delegated by the Planning and Infrastructure minister in 2011 that specified that the commission could be constituted of two members for the determination of development and project applications, and one member for application modifications.

The PAC is responsible for independently assessing major developments in NSW within all sectors of business and industry, reviewing such developments through public consultation, and providing independent advice on such matters.

In December last year the PAC recommended to refuse the Drayton South coal mine expansion on the grounds that two Upper Hunter horse studs would be threatened by the development.

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