Deputy Premier John Barilaro kindly allowed the Independent to ask two questions before he adjourned to the media wall, where the press corps awaited.
GH: In November 2020, Clarence Valley Council resolved to, and I quote, “oppose mining in the Clarence River catchment [and] … seek the support of both state and federal governments, to impose a moratorium on further mining exploration licences and to cancel existing licences”, largely due to the threat it poses to the Clarence River (the lifeblood of the valley’s key industries, tourism, agricultural and fishing): how will the NSW Government protect the valley’s tourism, fishing and agricultural sectors from any potential mining disaster if the government continues encouraging miners to explore for minerals that will be in demand as we transfer towards renewable energy?
JB: If you were listening to what I said earlier, that is going to happen naturally. We’ve always had coexistence with mining, agriculture [and] our coastal and environmental habitats – we’ve always done this, protect the environment and find ways to do it. The whole mining world is going to change in time; we’ll go with that. We’ve identified where coal mining will continue in this state; other areas have been ruled out. It was our party that ruled out coal seam gas.
GH: The minerals of interest in the Clarence Valley are those you spoke about regarding renewables.
JB: And it’s very possible, but you talk about mining in a way that it is bad, that it can’t be done in a safe way. So my answer is we’ll continue to do what we’ve always done: work with the communities, work with the mining sector and make sure that we only mine in areas we are comfortable with.
GH: But I said it was Clarence Valley Council that made the [no mining decision] decision.
JB: Sorry, I missed that.
GH: And soon there will be a 10,000-plus signature petition tabled in parliament on the issue, from local people.
NOTE: Mr Barilaro made no comment regarding the petition.
GH: You also talked about keeping kids in the community. Your ‘Economic Vision for Regional NSW’ emphasises moving more people into the regions, however, yesterday’s ABS figures show there has been a record amount of city to region migration. This, in turn, has exponentially increased property prices (as MC Mat Moran alluded to in his speech), which, in turn, increases the cost of rental properties. Given that people in the regions earn substantially less than their city counterparts, how will the government address the property market imbalance as cashed-up city dwellers purchase properties and make it harder to find affordable accommodation or purchase property in certain regions?
JB: With property comes jobs, with industry comes jobs. You want to attract more people into the regions; councils have got to unlock more Greenfield sites, more supply, to put downward pressure on prices. What we’ll do and have always done…. And I’ve been speaking with the planning minister about his work with local government, about the supply side of the development arm of residential property. The reality here is we want to see the future of the regions grow; to do that you have to attract the people to the regions. Otherwise, government services are cut, or government services are not invested in – this is the fine balance. I’m not going to limit the opportunities for the regions because we have an issue around the price of property, when we know we can resolve that through more Greenfield sites. Again, good planning gives better outcomes.
GH: So it’s a long-term strategy?
JB: Yes, long-term, thank you.