Independent Planning Commission review draws ire


Former commissioners of the Independent Planning Commission have accused the NSW Government of caving in to mining industry pressure by holding a review into the future of the independent consent authority for major projects in NSW.

Terms of reference for the review, which will be overseen by NSW Productivity Commissioner Peter Achterstraat, include "whether it is in the public interest to maintain an Independent Planning Commission" (IPC), and whether changes should be made to the thresholds for referring matters to the IPC.

The NSW Minerals Council launched a print, radio and television advertising campaign targeting the "faceless IPC" after it rejected South Korean company Kepco’s $290 million proposal for a coalmine in the Bylong Valley near Mudgee.

In the reasons for blocking the mine, published in September, the IPC said the environmental cost of the project outweighed its economic benefits and would be "borne by future generations".

The review comes as the Independent Commission Against Corruption holds a public inquiry into the regulation of lobbying in NSW.

The inquiry into the future of the IPC follows an administrative blunder earlier this month, when the commission approved a 21-year lease for Rix's Creek South mine near Singleton before public submissions had closed. The commission was forced to retract that decision hours later, before the project was given valid approval about a week later.

The IPC has also come under pressure over its ongoing role in determining the Star casino group's controversial proposal to build a $500 million hotel and apartment tower at Pyrmont.

Former ICAC commissioner David Ipp, QC, who presided over a series of high-profile inquiries into mining licences, said "returning to ministerial discretion on mining licences is a recipe for corruption".

"Once it is left to the minister basically there are no safeguards," he said.

Mr Ipp is now on the board of anti-corruption think tank the Centre for Public Integrity, which is chaired by former assistant ICAC commissioner Anthony Whealy, QC. Mr Whealy said the IPC was "a crucial accountability agency" and the review was announced "under pressure from the Minerals Council of NSW".