A former director-general of the New South Wales Department of Planning says the current framework for assessing coal mines lacks transparency.

Key points:

  • Sue Holliday says a clearer, more transparent system is needed to assess coal mines
  • More than half a dozen NSW mines are pursuing plans to extend their operations
  • The Department of Planning says it has adopted world’s best practice in relation to coal assessments

From 1997 to 2003 Sue Holliday was head of Planning NSW, as it was then known, and had oversight of coal mine assessment and approvals.

As the NSW government strengthens its medium-term climate goals, more than half a dozen coal mines in NSW are pursuing plans to extend their operations, with some seeking approval to mine into the 2040s.

She described the environmental impact statements (EIS) that accompanied coal applications as an “apology for the proponent”, and argued a “clearer, simpler” criteria was needed.

“Everyone understands how the home or commercial office block can become more energy efficient, more water efficient, and reduce impact in terms of emissions,” she said. “That’s not the case for coal mines or other mining.”

A hill with a coal mine cut out of the side

The Upper Hunter’s Mt Arthur mine has announced plans to apply for approval to mine through until 2045.(

ABC Upper Hunter: Jake Lapham


A spokesperson for the Department of Planning said: “NSW has adopted world best practice in assessing mining proposals that includes a rigorous, independent merit assessment that considers the impacts and overall public benefit of the proposal.”

The spokesperson said the department’s criteria included “quantified criteria for noise, air quality and impacts to groundwater”.

“If projects do not meet the required standards and criteria, they are rejected,” the spokesperson said.

‘Doing their best’

A road running with a coal mine on the left and farmland in the middle

The Upper Hunter has the highest density of coal mining in NSW.(

ABC News: Tom Hancock


Since 2011 the Department of Planning has recommended 38 coal projects for approval, and five for refusal, including recently the Hume Coal Project.

Seven were recommended for approval by the department, but later refused by a court or independent assessment body.

Ms Holliday said Department of Planning officials were “doing their best within the policy framework set by the government”.

The office of NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro declined to comment.

Coal companies ‘responding to certainty’

NSW Minerals Council CEO Stephen Galilee said recent coal extension applications showed “ongoing strength in the coal mining sector”.

“They’re [coal companies] responding to the certainty that’s been provided by the NSW government in its release last year of its strategy for coal mining and exploration in NSW,” he said.

“It’s very much a demand-driven strategy, with the NSW government making it clear that as long as there is demand for our high-quality export coal, the government will continue to support the industry’s effort to export that coal.”

“That policy statement was really important to the sector.”

Posted , updated 

Former planning chief says coal mine assessments lack transparency
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