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It took three years to collect this bag full of petitions, containing 10,433 signatures, which was due to be debated in the NSW Legislative council on August 5, however, Covid had other ideas. The August sitting dates are cancelled and are due to recommence on September 7 (dependent on Covid restrictions). Image: Contributed

Letters gather dust in Deputy Premier’s office

Geoff Helisma

The Clarence Catchment Alliance’s (CCA) anti-mining campaign, which has garnered the support of over 11,000 petition signatories and five councils – Clarence Valley, Coffs Harbour, Glenn Innes Severn, Bellingen and Byron Bay – has hit a wall of indifference when it comes to writing to NSW government ministers.

On Friday August 27, four of the CCA’s executive met with Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Council and Shadow Minister for the Environment Penny Sharpe.

On Monday August 30, Ms Sharpe put a question to the Budget Estimates 2021-2022 Committee, which was discussing ‘Regional NSW, Industry and Trade’.

“I have one question; I think maybe this is to you Mr [Scott] Hanson [Director General, Department of Primary Industries]; there’s considerable community concern in the Clarence Valley in relation to catchment management issues and mining exploration licenses,” she said.

“That’s not an issue that I want to go into today, but I am very concerned about the lack of community consultation.

“It is my understanding that the community group, which has got over 11,000 signatures for debate in the Parliament, which has of course been delayed, has written to many of your ministers seeking meetings and discussions.

“All of those have been forwarded to the Deputy Premier.

“He has written back to that community and said he is too busy to meet with them.

“My question to you is, what, if any, consultation and discussion are staff in your department having, in relation to this, with the local community?

“There are significant concerns from fishers and farmers, tourism operators and others.”

Mr Hansen: “I will have to take that on notice; the conversations actually have been led by others, not by the Department of Primary Industries, and it will only be whether those conversations have come up in our regular forum of consultations and engagement with those industries (and the industry groups up there) that we would, actually, be hearing any of that.

“I will have to take on notice which of those groups we have been meeting with and get back to you with that one.”

Ms Sharpe put the same question to the Secretary for the Department of Regional NSW Gary Barnes.

Mr Barnes: “Sorry, Ms Sharpe; I will do a follow-up on that one.”

Catchment alliance coordinator Shae Fleming said CCA representatives met with Ms Sharpe because “we have not received any meaningful response from the elected government’s ministers”.

“Each minister we’ve written to has either flicked us to Mr Barilaro, as mining comes under his portfolio, or not replied,” she said.

Ms Fleming said that CCA sent “a letter and info pack, requesting a meeting via video link and a response to our concerns”.

When no response was received, CCA resent the letter and info pack via email.

“We received a reply on the actual morning of the scheduled debate [August 5], which was cancelled because of covid,” Ms Fleming said.

“Mr Barilaro’s office responded, in part, with: ‘…the Deputy Premier receives a significant number of diary requests and is unable to accept them all…’.”

Ms Fleming said CCA had since received a response from the Premier, which also said she “receives a significant number of diary requests and is unable to accept them all”.

Parliament was due to sit last week, however, Premier Gladys Berejiklian suspended sittings – the NSW Parliament website flags October 12 as the next sitting date, however, no business is currently slated for discussion – the CCA petition, Ms Fleming said, “is first up” for debate because other “petitions cannot jump the queue”.