In March 2013 the O’Farrell Government placed a draft State Environmental Planning Policy on public exhibition which purports to create exclusion zones wherein coal seam gas exploration and mining cannot take place in future.
However, this draft amendment to the Mining State Environmental Planning Policy allows local councils to grant exemptions to these exclusion zones.
Apparently Premier O’Farrell and his backers have decided to ignore the fact that local government is the most corruptible of all three tiers of government in Australia.
One has only to look at this short list of NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) investigations into councils over the last five years to realise this.
In 2012 ICAC found that twenty-one people employed or formerly employed by fourteen different local government councils had acted corruptly and, that fifteen employees of private sector companies and one employee of a government agency had assisted in these corrupt activities.
Also in 2012 ICAC found that a councillor and a property developer had acted corruptly in 2009 and 2010.
In 2011 ICAC found three employees at three separate councils had acted corruptly.
In 2010 the Commission found an employee and a contractor had acted corruptly at one council, while a job applicant had been found to have offered a bribe at a second council. In that same year another person was found to have acted corruptly when seeking a licensing agreement with a third council.
In 2009 ICAC made corruption findings involving two persons associated with a property development and one council employee and, also found that two person had attempted to bribe council employees at another council.
In 2008 the Commission found ten people had acted corruptly with regard to one particular council, including four sitting councillors and, that this corruption had allegedly involved 139 offences.
In 2007 ICAC made corruption findings involving three councils.
As for any thought that the revamped Division of Local Government (now under the wing of the Dept. of Premier and Cabinet) may curb any future enthusiasm for corrupt behaviour should local councillors and senior managers be given any right to extinguish the possibility of exclusions zones on land wanted by mining companies – on past performance aid from this quarter is highly unlikely. Especially as the Division appears to prefer sending problems brought to its notice back to councils for resolution and, as since April 2012 the pecuniary interest of councillors is no longer a bar to voting on the creation or amendment of a local environmental plan which is a land use planning instrument.
In 2011-12 alone at least 34 per cent of the complaints concerning 125 councils the Division received involved either natural resource management, public land management, land use planning/development or pecuniary interest.
That mining companies may offer bribes as a matter of course in doing business is not a new issue, often misleadingly referring to them as tax deductible facilitation payments or business expenses if they appear on company books at all.
The O’Farrell Government’s desire to shift responsibility for creating lasting exclusion zones back onto local government, with its highly suspect track record, is an act of betrayal of Northern Rivers communities. Nothing more, nothing less.