The Berejiklian government has been accused of dodging questions about the future of so-called zombie exploration licences by failing to appear before an upper house inquiry looking into such permits.
During the Upper Hunter byelection in May, Deputy Premier John Barilaro said mining in the rich farming region of the Liverpool Plains would be extinguished “forever and a day” in the region.
Farmers had demanded the government follow-up on its buyout of the proposed Shenhua coal mine by cancelling other long-standing fossil fuel exploration licences in the region.
The government then stalled parliamentary debate during the byelection on a private members bill proposed by independent MP Justin Field to formally extinguish the long dormant Petroleum Exploration Licences (PELs) by deflecting discussions to an upper house committee.
However, when the committee met on Tuesday, the government and PEL owners Santos and Comet Ridge declined to front the gathering.
“The government has shown utter contempt for regional communities, first kicking this legislation off to an inquiry to avoid the debate and vote before the Upper Hunter byelection, and now failing to make a submission to the inquiry and declining to even appear,” Mr Field said.
A spokeswoman for Mr Barilaro said the government is finalising its Future of Gas statement. “Far from hiding from this committee, the government has three members on it including Sam Farraway, who is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Deputy Premier,” she said.
Energy giant, Santos, which also declined to appear before the committee provided a submission instead. In it, Santos said “our joint venture partners currently hold 12 Petroleum Exploration Licenses (PELs) covering 53,433 km² in central NSW. Much of these areas are prospective for natural gas and have significant potential for future development and investment. The continued retention and operatorship of additional tenure in the Gunnedah Basin will allow Santos to undertake coordinated development of its acreage in line with community support, government regulation, scientific assessment and the energy needs of NSW.”