A complaint from EDO on behalf of a client who is resident in the Hunter Valley recently led to a NSW State Archives and Records Authority investigation of Department of Planning, Industry and Environment record-keeping.
The Authority’s investigation concluded that the Department had breached section 12(1) of the State Records Act 1998 and the Standard on records management by failing to keep a written record of a telephone conversation with mining giant Glencore in relation to the modification application process for the Glendell open cut coal mine (Mod 4).
EDO made the complaint to the Authority on behalf of a resident of the Upper Hunter where the Glendell mine is located. The complaint highlighted the practice of the Department to not keep written records of telephone conversations with Glencore.
On behalf of our client, EDO noted that the exact number of undocumented telephone calls held is unknown. As a government body, the failure of the Department to maintain appropriate records compromises the public’s ability to understand the decision-making processes surrounding major development proposals and to monitor the conduct of the Department in its private interactions with proponents.
EDO also noted that, given that the planning process is a public process, the public needs to be able to access records of telephone conversations held between the Department and development proponents. The Department’s failure to keep records of such calls significantly affects transparency and accountability in a public process which concerns the assessment and approval of major developments with the potential to significantly impact the environment and community.
The Authority has made recommendations to the Department for strengthening record-keeping frameworks for documenting contact with external parties and the EDO understands these are being implemented.
As public interest environmental lawyers, we were pleased to have been able to assist our client and the community in highlighting these issues of lack of transparency and poor record-keeping by the Department in relation to major mining projects. Keeping accurate records builds community confidence in planning processes and transparency, as well as reducing the risk of corruption and regulatory capture.