NCAT decision on Shenhua coal documents
The NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal has upheld a decision of the NSW Government to withhold key documents relating to the Shenhua Watermark Coal Mine on the Liverpool Plains, in administrative review proceedings run by EDO NSW on behalf of our client Lock the Gate.
January 2019: Lock the Gate had sought access to the documents under the NSW Freedom of Information laws. The documents relate to secret negotiations between the NSW Government and Shenhua, a Chinese state-owned mining company. The negotiations resulted in the government paying Shenhua $262 million to buy-back around 50% of Shenhua’s mining exploration licence, covering an area of fertile black soils, in July 2017.
The matter was heard before the Tribunal in May 2018. Lock the Gate argued that the public has a right to know about deals made by the NSW Government in regard to the development of the controversial Watermark Coal Mine, particularly given the large amount of public money involved. They also argued that accountability and transparency were essential given the significant predicted impacts of the Watermark Coal Mine on the fertile Liverpool Plains region, which is key to the nation’s agricultural industry, and its impacts on local communities and the environment.
The Tribunal agreed that there was significant public interest in the Shenhua buyback deal and in the management of natural resources more generally in NSW. It also acknowledged that significant amounts of public money were involved and noted that the release of the documents would enhance the transparency and accountability of government decision making.
However, the Tribunal ultimately found that the NSW Government’s decision to withhold access to the documents had been made validly, having regard to the relevant exemption provisions in the Freedom of Information laws.
- The NCAT decision on the Lock the Gate Alliance GIPA request is available here.
- Our case page is here.