MERC Newsletter – March 2019


Delegates, here is the March 2019 MERC Newsletter (Post state election edition). This newsletter has a lot of important information in it for you to read, please circulate this to your fellow Councillors and senior staff, so they can appreciate and understand the excellent work the Association and you are doing on behalf of your Council and community, with regard to mining and energy related matters.

Update on the Voluntary Planning Agreement Steering Committee

The next meeting of the Steering Committee has been set down for 2nd May 2019 to consider the position papers by NSWMC (on the implications of autonomous mining for VPAs) and MERC (to review Umwelt’s Worker Domicile Model, identify any impacts which are not included in that model which MERC considers should be the subject of financial contributions through VPAs, plus the methodologies for their calculation). The papers are to be distributed to parties before the next meeting.

MERC has engaged Oz Environmental to assist with this position paper, as they were part of the original working party and have done a lot of work on this already for MERC. The draft paper is due to be provided to the working party for its comments by 10th April 2019. The MERC VPA Steering Committee will seek delegates input in due course before the meeting on 2nd May 2019.

The parties are aiming to have an agreed position by 31/12/2019, hopefully changes within the new Department of Planning & Public Spaces (with Minister Stokes taking back over Planning) don’t interfere, given the new Cabinet the Premier has just announced. I have copied these in the Newsletter as information, given the importance of them to MERC.

Resources for Regions (R4R) versus a Royalties for Regions – Media Release, etc.

The MERC Executive Committee agreed at its meeting on 7th February 2019, that a media release be prepared and forwarded to outlets throughout NSW to obtain as much coverage about the failure of the current Resources for Regions program to provide infrastructure for regions affected by mining related activities and the need for it to be replaced with a Royalties for Regions program. This approach is supported by Labor, the Shooters, Fishers & Farmers at State level and Federally former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce (Nats).

The media release was printed in the Country Leader (that is included in the Fairfax papers distributed throughout rural NSW) albeit diminished in what was provided to the Northern Daily Leader journalist Jamieson Murphy, nevertheless, the message was clear that the current Resources for Regions programs were not working for rural NSW infrastructure and the opportunities were lost for some LGA’s in view of the tough criteria.

Here is what was printed in the Country Leader on 11th March 2019 headlined “Councils call for fair share” and written by Jamieson Murphy who said this – “‘ Mining Councils across the region have hit out at the state government, saying they wear the cost of supporting the industry without getting a fair return. Some of the royalties the NSW government reaps from mining go towards the Resources for Regions program, a pool of money that Councils with mining activity in their boundaries potentially use to help fund various projects. However, the 22 members of the Mining & Energy Related Councils (MERC) NSW say the program is ineffective and unfair.

To apply for the Resources for Regions’ funding, Councils must be prepared to fork out a half of the development’s total cost, which has since been dropped to 25 per cent when not enough Councils could afford it. Project must also be at least $1million and have a cost – benefit ratio that shows the development will benefit the NSW government – not the Council.

MERC Chair Peter Shinton said “The funding program needed to be overhauled. We have not recived a fair proportion of the royalties the mining companies have paid into consolidated revenue coffers of the government” Cr Shinton said. “The intention of the royalties levy on the miners, is that funds are supposed to be returned to the regions from where they were levied, in part, to assist with addressing our infrastructure shortcomings and with the social and economic impacts. This has been occurring since this Coalition government has been in power”

Labor Shadow Resources Minister, Adam Searle said “his party would develop a new Resources for Regions Model. We will ensure that mining communities have a greater say in the distribution of funds” he said”.

Following the Executive Officer’s approach to NSW Infrastructure enquiring about where the announcement with the Resources for Regions Round 6 grants were up to (on behalf of a request from the Mayor of a member Council who had been informed by the government that they were successful with grants but the government makes the announcement. This announcement did not occur before the caretaker period. A senior staff member from the Premier and Cabinet’s Department responded and indicated that the elected government made the decision not to announce the grants prior to the election, despite staff readiness.

However, some details were released informally, in the caretaker period up to the elections by the sitting members for Heathcote and Upper Hunter and for the Dubbo electorate from the same party, on the grants Councils in their areas were to receive, irrespective.

The senior bureaucrat from the Premier and Cabinet’s Department said the current Resources for Regions program wasn’t meeting its objectives which was a concern and the staff were going to review it, plus seek input from MERC and the NSW Minerals Council and submit the new program to the incoming government, to ensure a better deal for those Councils and communities affected by mining occurs.

There is widespread support for changing the existing program. The following email dated 31st January 2019, was received from the State Director, Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party indicating their support for a “Royalties for Regions” approach to be considered in due course:  “Thanks for reaching out to Senada from our Parliamentary Office regarding support for Royalities for Regions policy. We would support such a policy…… Filip Despotoski, State Director – Shooters Fishers and Farmers”

Regional Advisory Forum (RAF)

Clr Hasler (MERC delegate to RAF) has reported with the election on 23rd March 2019, it is not likely that a further meeting will be held until several months after the elections. The government has now been elected and has introduced portfolio changes that could affect the future of RAF.

New NSW Government Ministry

Announced by the Premier, Hon Gladys Berijiklian on 1st April 2019 is the new NSW Government  Ministry and those Ministers that are on particular “regional” interest areas for   MERC are:-

  • HON Gladys Berijiklian, Premier;
  • Hon John Barilaro, Deputy Premier, Minister for Regional NSW, Industry & Trade;
  • Hon Dominic Perrottet, Treasurer;
  • Hon Paul Toole, Minister for Regional Transport and Roads;
  • Hon Andrew Constance, Minister for Transport and Roads;
  • Hon Robert Stokes, Minister for Planning & Public Spaces;
  • Hon Matthew Kean, Minister for Energy & Environment;
  • Hon Adam Marshall, Minister for Agriculture and Western NSW; and
  • Hon Shelley Hancock, Minister for Local Government.

What is of note with these appointments is the retention of John Barilaro with the Regional NSW portfolio and the creation of a Regional Transport and Roads portfolio under Minister Toole, MP for Bathurst, ex mayor of Bathurst and Evans Councils plus also having a cluster Minister for Transport & Roads under Minister Andrew Constance no doubt to oversee the Regional Transport & Roads. Portfolio of Minister Toole

The appointments have also split the old Planning and Environment portfolio to create Planning & Public Spaces and moved Environment in with Energy under a new Minister for the Energy & Environment portfolio. There are a few ex Mayors and Councillors among the above with Adam Marshall, ex Mayor Gunnedah Shire Council (MERC member) and Shelley Hancock a long term Councillor with Shoalhaven City Council.

All of the above should translate into a better understanding of regional local council needs for mining and energy related matters and provides an opportunity for MERC to pursue.

Add the new Shooters, Fishers & Farmers party members for Barwon (Roy Butler) and Murray (Helen Dalton), MERC has some new in experienced politicians to acquaint them with our strategic plan objectives and interests. Adam Marshall, Minister for Agriculture & Western NSW, MP Northern Tablelands has agreed already to attend a future meeting of MERC to meet delegates and talk about regional issues as the Western NSW Minister, dates and when to be confirmed. Roy Butler has been approached as the new Member for Barwon from the Shooters, Fishers & Farmers party to attend the Forbes meeting on 10th May 2019 to discuss Royalties for Regions in particular and mining and energy related matters afecting members fo MERC.

Next Meetings of Association for 2019

The next Executive Committee meeting will be on 9th May 2019 and the Ordinary General Meeting next day on 10th May 2019, both meetings starting at 9am and held in the Forbes Memorial Services Club.

The Forbes Shire Council Events Coordinator Jolene has organised for delegates and partners arriving early on 9th May 2019 to participate in a tour departing the Forbes Memorial Services Club at 1pm of the multi stock Central West Livestock Exchange, to visit the VAST Solar farm then for a tour of the Amazing Sculpture then back to the Club  by 4.30ish. The Network dinner that evening will be held in the Forbes Sport & Recreation Club Chinese Restaurant. Numbers are needed.

The demand for accommodation for motels in the Forbes CBD will be at a premium on 10th May 2019 due to the Van Fest Music event in town that night, so delegates need to contact them and book as soon as possible. Phone numbers for the motels in the CBD provided by Jolene are as follows:

Plainsman Motel – 6852 2466; Forbes Victoria Inn – 6851 2233; Econolodge Ben Hall Motor Inn – 6851 2345 and Country Mile Motor Inn – 6852 4099. There are other motel/ hotel  options available.

The August meetings are to be held in Sydney at Club York, Bass rooms on 8/9th August 2019 (same as February meeting for Executive Committee and Ordinary meetings).Mid Coast Council have now confirmed they will host the November meetings in Gloucester with 7/8th November 2019 for Gloucester. Dates will be confirmed by the Executive in due course, but by sticking with the pattern of second Thursday/Friday in the aforementioned months is what we are working on for your diaries.

Membership Campaign

Coonamble Shire Council has expressed an interest in being part of the Association and after discussions with the Mayor, who is very keen, a proposal has been forwarded for the Council to consider membership in view of their renewable energy potential and the Coal Seam Gas issues. The Council is currently recruiting for a General Manager which may interrupt the decision.

.The Association at its May meeting in 2018, adopted a Marketing Policy to ensure membership increases by targeting more renewable energy development affected LGA’s in NSW and to formalise and stregthen the membership campaign. If any delegates have any colleagues in Local Government that may be interested in being part of our voice, please contact the Executive Officer.

Potential Speakers for next meetings of MERC

The Executive Officer has commenced chasing the following speakers for future meetings:

  • David Kitto, Executive Director of DPE Resource Assessments & Business systems team has been invited to attend in lieu his inability to attend the wind farming workshop and meeting next day at Crookwell in November last year;
  • Dr Alex King, Executive Director, Resources Policy, Planning & Programs, Division of Resources & Geoscience, DPE has been invited and has accepted to attend Forbes meeting 10th May 2019, to address delegates on engagement with non-industry stakeholders, the state and future of mining in NSW and his Division engaging more with local government going forward;
  • Nathan Laird, Director Legislative Updates, Policy and Strategy, DPE has been invited to address delegates on the devlopment of Community Participation Plans (CPP’s).He is currently organising a suitable person to attend the Forbes meeting on 10th May 2019;
  • Tony Corbett, Trade & Business Development Manager, Port of Newcastle has been suggested by life member Glenn Wilcox who suggested he be invited to provide an update on what is happening with coal & containers. He has advised will be available for the Sydney meeting in August;
  • Hon Adam Marshall, Minister for Agriculture and Western NSW, National Party;
  • Roy Butler, Member for Barwon, Shooters, Fishers & Farmers Party NSW;
  • Hon Rob Stokes, Minister for Planning & Public Spaces, Liberal Party;
  • Matt Kean, Minister for Energy & Environment, Liberal Party;
  • Hon Gladys Berijiklian, Premier;
  • Hon John Barilaro, Deputy Premier, Minister for Regional NSW, Investment & Trade

Life Membership Updates – Mitchell, Martin, Connor and Brady

  • John Martin – The Chair and Executive Officer have been requested to attend the Singleton Council meeting on 15th April 2019 to present the recently approved Life Membership to current Singleton Councillor (but no longer a delegate to MERC), Cr John Martin, which has been agreed to by the Chair and John in consutation with Singleton Council General Manager and staff. John was extremely honoured to be acknowledegd;
  • Cr Lilliane Brady OAM – Cr Brady OAM has submitted a letter of thanks to the Executive officer and requested its contents be circulated to delegates. The letter reads “I wish to thank you and each member of the Association for this prestigious honour. I am so grateful to receive a Lifetime Membership to the Association of Mining & Energy Related Councils (NSW) and I look forward to seeing you all at the next meeting. With all my heart, thank you. Lilliane Brady OAM, Mayor Cobar Shire Council”. A presentation will be made to her at the May meeting in Forbes;
  • Col Mitchell – Is elated with the award and is endeavouring to attend the MERC meeting in Sydney on 9th August 2019 to receive his award;
  • Chris Connor – Is equally honoured to receive the Life Membership and is hoping to attend the meeting in Gloucester in November 2019 to receive his Award.

 Research Fellowship Update

On 8th February 2019 at the Ordinary General Meeting, Dr Juan Castilla Rho, University of Wollongong, Research Fellow Participatory Modelling, briefed delegates on the participatory modelling research proposal with the three options, outputs and outcomes, as follows:

Option One – Research Agreement (4 year project) MERC & UoW – $35K pa each (cash and in kind), 1 Pilot case study (to be selected – mining, CSG, water resource, wind, etc.) and 1 PhD student, supervised by Dr Castilla and Prof Perez;

Option Two – OEH Environmental Research Grant (4 year project) MERC & UoW cost of $50K – $300K, to be split 50:50 depending on the grant quantum, with the involvement of 2 PhD students for 2 case studies, same supervision;

Option Three – ARC Linkage Project (2-5 year project) MERC & UoW – $50K – $300K (35/50% success rate), 3 Pilot studies, 3 PhD students, same supervision, plus Prof Moira Zellner, University of Illinois of Chicago, world leader in participatory steering of complex systems being involved in the workshops.

The outputs will be participatory modelling workshops; part of a management flight simulator; in journal papers; presentation at International conferences; published in news and media outlets. The outcomes are expected to be the piloting of participatory modelling social licence pathways; facilitate the assessment of mining and energy proposals; project has the potential to be included in guidelines, best practice and ultimately planning regulation. Below is a link to download the presentation:

Delegates will need to determine if MERC is to proceed with the project or not, at the 10th May meeting in Forbes by having a discussion with your Councils, consideration of the benefits and funding options. Meanwhile, possible grant sources are being canvassed to cover the MERC  co contribution funds.

Discussions with Juan, Pascal and Executive Officer continue on the options if MERC decides to proceed. A decision will need to be made by MERC one way or another at the May meeting.

Related Matters of Interest – Mining and Energy Issues

“Autonomous trucks collide” From the Australian Mining Safety Journal, 19th March 2019.

BHP has confirmed that two autonomous mining trucks collided at the Jimblebar mine on Saturday evening at around A spokesperson for BHP confirmed that the autonomous truck incident occurred as a result of a loss of traction on slippery road surfaces when one vehicle slipped into the other. The trucks were travelling at relatively low speeds when the incident occurred. One truck was travelling at 27 km/h and the other at 14 km/h. No people were injured in the incident. The spokesperson said it followed “significant rainfall that deteriorated road surface, causing one vehicle to slip into the other. Operations resumed in the hours after the incident and no one was injured”

Jimblebar has successfully operated autonomous trucks since 2013 and reportedly run a 100% autonomous truck fleet since December 2017. An internal investigation is being conducted by BHP iron ore Jimblebar. The autonomous haul truck incident follows another minor incident at Fortescue Metals last month, details as follows:

An autonomous truck incident at Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) Christmas Creek operation this week has shone a light on the safety vulnerabilities of wireless mesh networks for the management of data associated with autonomous vehicles supplying a wide variety of sensory inputs. Fortescue Metals Group confirmed today that one of its Auto Haulage System (AHS) trucks reversed into another parked AHS truck at slow speed on Monday night.

According to reports in The West Australian, the back corner of the reversing truck smashed into the cab of the stationary truck. It is believed the incident may have occurred after a dropout in Wi-Fi coverage which facilitates the transfer of data from the truck to the communications centre. Fortescue Metals said in a statement that no one was hurt or at risk of being injured in Monday’s incident.

“This was not the result of any failure of the autonomous system,” Fortescue Chief Executive Elizabeth Gaines said in the statement. The media release confirmed that “No manned vehicles or people were involved and its AHS trucks have safely travelled more than 24.7 million kilometres since 2012.” FMG also confirmed that it is conducting a full investigation into the incident and will make details of the failure known to industry stakeholders and regulators.

Mesh network issues being investigated – Like all engineered systems, vulnerabilities and risks with systems are ever present and theoretically should be engineered out to remove those risks, however, many mesh network engineers have identified that failures can still occur in mesh networks for a variety of complex reasons. FMG says it’s investigating why the mesh network breakdown occurred.

For now, Fortescue will move on – FMG’s investigation will be one to watch by the industry. AMSJ suspects that as autonomous systems evolve at a rapid rate, incidents of this ilk will also continue to evolve in complexity. When a driver traditionally reversed into another vehicle in the past, the investigation was typically quite concise with causative factors quite clear. There wasn’t a need to check the amount of data being transferred through an ever-evolving and ageing mesh network that may have an increasing nodal failure rate. There wasn’t a need to check the efficacy of a sensor network, the speed of the packets of data or the actions of a controller in a control room. The times are a changing!

Meanwhile, the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety confirmed the incident had been reported and that it would review the company’s internal investigation report to determine what further actions might be required. The Department’s Director of Mines Safety, Andrew Chaplyn, said he understood that information relating to the incident had been shared with Fortescue staff at pre-start meetings this week. “Fortescue is co-operating with the department’s inquiries,” he said. Refer to 

Chinese coal mine divides NSW   From Industrial Careers, 11 March 2019.

There is serious disagreement in NSW over a proposed new coal mine. Chinese state-owned China Energy Engineering Corporation (CEEC) has announced plans to build 2000MW of new coal generation in the New South Wales Hunter Valley, north of Sydney.It is to be located in a failed industrial zone and feature two 1000MW plants utilising high intensity, high efficiency coal-fired technology. CEEC is a major Chinese military-civil investment vehicle, holding contracts for Egyptian military projects, China’s famous Three Gorges hydroelectric project, a nuclear power plant for Pakistan and several coal-fired power stations in the India, Indonesia, Ghana and Vietnam.

Coalition backbencher Craig Kelly has described the plan a “fantastic” and urged Prime Minister Scott Morrison to give it some taxpayer subsidies. “This is exactly what the market needs,” Mr Kelly said. “If the Government needs to underwrite it, if it needs a little bit of help, then that’s what we should be doing.”

The Greens say a “veritable army” is massing to stop the planned plant. “We just had our hottest summer on record. If Labor or Liberal [parties] give this project the tick of approval then you will see civil disobedience in Australia on a scale never seen before,” Greens energy spokesperson Adam Bandt said. For more details refer dated 11th march 2019,

“Title fight has wide implications”  from Industrial Careers 11th March 2019

The High Court has ruled on a native title case considered one of the biggest since Mabo. It is the first time the High Court has examined the Native Title Act’s compensation provisions, including placing a value on intangible harm caused by disconnection with country.The claim was brought by Ngaliwurru and Nungali native title holders over rights that were extinguished by the Northern Territory Government in the 1980s and 1990s.

The court settled on a final compensation amount of $2.5 million, divided into three components — economic loss, interest and non-economic loss for “spiritual” harm caused by disconnection. “The compensation for loss or diminution of traditional attachment to the land or connection to country and for loss of rights to gain spiritual sustenance from the land is the amount which society would rightly regard as appropriate,” the majority judgement said. The decision has set a precedent for similar claims nationwide, indicated in part by the fact that the governments of Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia were “interveners” or interested parties in the case, stepping in to support the NT and Federal Governments’ positions.

The process began when Timber Creek native title holders were awarded $3.3 million in compensation for the extinguishment of their native title rights in 2016. That decision was challenged by the NT and Federal Governments, and the compensation amount was reduced to $2.9 million. The NT and Federal Governments and the Ngaliwurru and Nungali claim group both appealed that reduction. The Federal and NT Governments argued that the native title rights were “overvalued”.

They argued that the economic loss should be less than 50 per cent of the freehold value of the land. The High Court agreed, awarding $320,250 for that component. That decision was partly based on the fact that Timber Creek was covered by a pastoral lease in the 1880s, which meant traditional owners kept “non-exclusive” rights to hunt, fish and practice their law and culture. The Ngaliwurru and Nungali people argued that the loss of native title was worth the entire freehold market value of the land.

This week, the High Court determined that the economic loss was worth 50 per cent of the freehold value, but also affirmed the original decision that the group was entitled to interest on that payment, and $1.3 million for cultural loss. Lawyer Tony Denholder said it has huge implications for other claims. He said “That the small area of Timber Creek still triggered a compensation liability of over $2.5 million, will have strong implications for the more than 2,800,000 sq km of native title land holdings across the rest of Australia,” he said. “The high court’s decision will likely to trigger compensation applications from many of the hundreds of native title holder groups around Australia, who finally have clarity – albeit limited – on how they might quantify the compensation owed to them for impacts on their native title.”

The ruling raises questions for the mining, resources and agricultural sectors, with suggestions that governments could pass liability costs onto third parties. Minerals Council of Australia chief Tania Constable says the industry wants governments to “provide policy certainty to promote investment, jobs and sustainable regional communities” .Refer

“Pollution killing millions”   From Industrial Careers, 13th March 2019

New estimates say air pollution is responsible for up to 8.8 million extra deaths around the world each year. That suggests air pollution causes 1.6 million more deaths each year than tobacco, though smoking is avoidable but air pollution is not. The researchers used exposure data from a model that includes atmospheric chemical processes and the way they interact with land and sea, as well as chemicals emitted from natural and man-made sources such as energy generation, industry, traffic and agriculture.

These were applied to data from the WHO, which included information on population density, geographical locations, ages, risk factors for several diseases and causes of death. They focused particularly on levels of polluting fine particles known as ‘particulate matter’ that are less than or equal to 2.5 microns in diameter – known as PM2.5 – and ozone.

Worldwide, they found that air pollution is responsible for 120 extra deaths per year per 100,000 of the population. “The number of deaths from cardiovascular disease that can be attributed to air pollution is much higher than expected,” said co-author of the study, Professor Thomas Münzel, from the Department of Cardiology of the University Medical Centre Mainz in Germany.

As a result of these findings, the researchers say that national governments and international agencies must take urgent action to reduce air pollution, including re-evaluating legislation on air quality and lowering limits on the annual average levels of air pollution to match the WHO guidelines.

Canada, the USA and Australia use the WHO guideline, but the EU is lagging a long way behind in this respect. The study is accessible here. Refer, 13th March 2019

Farmers say they are priced out of water auctions by miners” From The Land, 1st March 2019.  

A recent auction at Gunnedah saw coal miner Whitehaven, who operate Maules Creek, Tarrawonga and the planned Vickery extension mines, successfully bid $930 a megalitre for 460mL of groundwater in Zone 4 for a temporary transfer licence. The under bidder was Boggabri coal. Farmers dropped out of the groundwater bidding at $300ml. At another auction in Narrabri recently a mine paid $5100ml for permanent Zone 5 groundwater. Evidence of another way farmers are adversely impacted by mining operations which is never considered in an EIS. Refer to

Community hear community concerns about coal” From Industrial Careers, 18th March 2019

Rural residents are discussing the future of coal and how it may affect them. Coal is the big employer in NSW’s Hunter Valley region, with around 9,000 workers across 40 different mines. But some countries are moving away from coal, miners are capping production and the industry has been caught in almost perpetual political spotlight, creating concern that regional industries will be caught short. The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA)says that over 100 major financiers have withdrawn from thermal coal projects in the last five years. Energy giant Glencore – a major player in the Hunter Valley and other resource regions – says it will cap coal production in response to global warming. Analyst Tim Buckley says communities face a harsh transition. “The Hunter Valley is probably one of the most exposed communities, economies and states in the world to this long-term zero thermal coal use trajectory,” he told the ABC.

Environmental group Lock the Gate has brought in expert speakers from the US to address Hunter residents about what happens when the coal game falls apart. However, the mining lobby does not hold the same concerns.

The Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) says global energy demand — including coal power — is on track to climb 66 per cent in the next 20 years. MCA chief Tania Constable says developing countries will continue to rely on Australian coal. “India’s per capita electricity consumption, currently one-tenth that of Australia, is expected to double by 2030,” she said. She called for a focus on maintaining the “highly paid, highly skilled jobs” and “valuable export income” provided by mining. Refer


Clr Peter Shinton (Chair) 0268492000 or Greg Lamont (Executive Officer) 0407937636,