In a major economic boost for the Upper Hunter community, the NSW Independent Planning Commission (IPC) has approved the Maxwell Underground Project near Muswellbrook.
Despite objections from the thoroughbred and viticulture industries, today’s (Tuesday 22 December) determination follows the development’s comprehensive and technical review by experts and rigorous assessment by the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (NSW DPIE).
The NSW DPIE in its whole-of-government evaluation – released in October 2020 – concluded the Maxwell Underground Project, on the now-closed Anglo American Drayton mine site, was “in the public interest” and “approvable”.
The project also underwent significant community consultation and engagement, including through the public exhibition of its Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in September 2019 and a public hearing facilitated by the IPC last month.
Not surprisingly, chairman Wayne Seabrook welcomed the announcement, adding Malabar was eager to kick off the necessary next steps to begin construction in 2021.
“Today’s news is just the beginning of a much longer journey with our neighbours to ensure the project continues to meet the expectations of everyone in our community, many of whom we have been speaking with over the past eight years to get this project right,” he said.
“The Maxwell Underground Project represents immense potential for the communities of the Upper Hunter.
“It will deliver about 250 construction jobs and 350 positions during operation into the region, generating $55 million in annual wages once the project is up and running.
“It’ll also support local businesses and suppliers over the next three decades, and provide a real boost to the local economy, particularly during this challenging period.”
The IPC’s approval of the project and conclusion that it is in the public interest is based on its consideration of all issues, risks and potential impacts.
Malabar is currently reviewing the IPC’s determination, including the commission’s Development Consent and Statement of Reasons.
“The Maxwell Underground Project will produce high-quality coal with at least 75% capable of being used in the making of steel,” Mr Seabrook said.
“Over the initial 26 years, it’ll provide $1 billion to $1.2 billion in royalties to the NSW Government and about $150 million to the local council and state government through payroll tax, land tax, levies, rates and council planning agreement payments.”
The IPC judgement, however, drew criticism from the Lock the Gate Alliance, who labelled it “appalling”.
“The mine will be responsible for about 377 million tonnes of CO2 emissions over its lifespan,” NSW coordinator Georgina Woods said.
“This is now the sixth mining project the IPC has waved through.
“The public have effectively lost faith in the commission’s ability to assess controversial mining projects with an impartial eye ever since Minister for Planning Rob Stokes kneecapped the authority following the rejection of the Bylong Valley mine.
“Merits appeal rights for those who oppose these projects are unavailable so without an independent umpire, people and industries that are affected by mining have effectively got no say and no protection.
“Clearly, Minister Stokes has stripped the IPC of its independence.
“It is now little more than an extension of the NSW Government and planning department that rubber stamps anything that comes its way.
“We are calling for the reintroduction of merits appeal rights so the community can have a basic fair hearing in the Land and Environment Court about the impact of inappropriate coal and gas projects like Maxwell Underground.”
Ms Woods said the latest decision further entrenched an industry with a highly-uncertain future at the expense of other long-term industries.
“The Berejiklian-Barilaro government is happy to scoop money from the Hunter in the form of mining royalties but has categorically failed to give us in return balanced land use laws and investment in our future beyond coal,” she stated.
“The countries that buy our coal are pursuing zero-carbon futures, but the NSW Government is carrying on with business as normal, ignoring seismic changes in international energy markets and leaving the Hunter exposed.
“The people of the Hunter and other coal producing regions will bear the brunt of this government stupidity.”