SOUTHERN Highlands representatives at the NSW Upper House Inquiry into coal seam gas (CSG) mining in Mittagong on Friday were overshadowed by a powerful statement from Rivers SOS.
Wingecarribee Council's Larry Whipper and Scott Lee addressed the committee as did Peter Martin and Alan Lindsay from Southern Highlands Coal Action Group.
However, the witness who made the biggest impact at the hearing was Caroline Graham from Rivers SOS who received a rousing applause from the gallery.
Ms Graham spoke about the "white elephant" in the room being the "undue influence" that mining companies had over Australia's political process.
She alluded to a recent statement by the former chief of the Environmental Protection Authority, Barry Carbon, who called Western Australia's development approval system "corrupt".
Mr Carbon told the Environment Institute of Australia and New Zealand that mining companies and other proponents were forced to make contributions, sometimes millions of dollars, to government agencies before approvals were even considered.
He said detailed environmental assessment reports, paid for by proponents, were not being read by bureaucrats because they were "too long" and that these problems "existed at commonwealth and state levels across most of the country".
Ms Graham said there was a general "air of corruption" and "undue influence" happening in our consultancy processes.
"Consultants are writing favourable reports or removing items that the mining companies don't like in order to submit them to the government," she said.
"Rivers SOS is also concerned about the Planning Assessment Commission because it has been weighted by the panel of experts appointed to the Commission often, people who work as consultants to the mining industry.
"We need independent scientists to go on these panels, not people who get regular work with the mining companies."
She said the group was not happy with the draft Aquifer interference policy which, she said, was leaving out things out such as pollution of water by CSG and high water usage.
She also said the NSW government hasn't accepted the notion of no-go-zones that certain areas, like major river systems and prime agricultural land will be exempt from mining.
"We understood before the election that the Premier would definitely approve of no-go-zones but things are now getting a bit grey around the edges," she said.
She also said the Murray Darling's Plan to allocate 600 gigalitres of water for mining was "appalling".
"Irrigators and environmental flows were being cut back - but mining companies were going to get this enormous increase from an unsustainable river system," she said.
Councillor Whipper said until there was conclusive science saying CSG mining would have no effect on water supplies, then the council would not support it.
He also said legislation would not matter unless there was compliance and it was policed.
Mr Martin and Mr Lindsay said certain areas of the state "must be ring-fenced" based on their characteristics and that the Southern Highlands should be one of them.
"Our main concerns are the serious threat to the aquifers from CSG or coal mining and the proposed methods of handling the contaminated water produced by CSG extraction," Mr Lindsay said.
"We're increasingly concerned the impact mining will have on the landscape, tourism and real estate value."
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