NSW Deputy Premier Paul Toole says he will oppose Hawkins and Rumker coalmining proposal

The NSW Deputy Premier says he will oppose a coalmining project in a ‘beautiful’ area of NSW that lies next to a national park.

The NSW Deputy Premier says he will move to stop a controversial coal project near Wollemi National Park.

Paul Toole told a budget estimates hearing on Wednesday that he would propose to the cabinet that the coal exploration project in the Hawkins and Rumker areas should be ruled out.

“It is my intention to take this proposal to my colleagues, and it is my intention to actually rule it out,” Mr Toole said.

The 3000-hectare area of land, just north of Mr Toole’s electorate of Bathurst, has been earmarked for potential exploration, but some locals have argued against the plan.

A report by consultancy firm EarthScapes that was commissioned by anti-mining lobby group Lock the Gate showed there were dozens of Aboriginal heritage sites nearby.

The report said the Hawkins and Rumker areas, and nearby Ganguddy-Kelgoola, had no less than 45 recorded heritage sites between them.

The consultants also said 22 threatened animal species and six threatened plant species would be at risk.

Mr Toole said he was not convinced the project would be commercially viable and “social issues” were also at play.

“It is a beautiful area,” he said.

“And there are commercial issues around its viability, but there’s also social issues that have been identified as well.

“And I think it makes it very clear for me to actually say to my department that when we put the report going up to my colleagues, it will be actually indicating that we rule it out.”

Greens upper house MP Cate Faehrmann, who used her time at budget estimates to ask Mr Toole about his position on the project, said afterwards the Deputy Premier’s announcement was “wonderful news”.

“I am now calling on the NSW government to protect this culturally rich and environmentally significant area by adding it to the national parks estate,” she said.

“This area was originally left out of Wollemi National Park because of its potential for coal exploration.

“Opening it up now would have devastated the local community and the Dabee Wiradjuri people and put 7000 hectares of threatened ecological communities, countless Aboriginal heritage sites and our climate at risk.”

She also said the government should rule out coal and gas projects in Ganguddy-Kelgoola as well.

Originally published as NSW Deputy Premier Paul Toole says he will oppose Hawkins and Rumker coalmining proposal

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NSW: No review of decision to pay Daryl Maguire’s ICAC legal costs

The NSW attorney-general has revealed why former MP Daryl Maguire was granted legal assistance during an ongoing ICAC probe.

NSW taxpayers are still forking out cash to cover the legal fees of former Wagga Wagga MP Daryl Maguire during a corruption probe — and there are no plans for that to change.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption is examining whether former Premier Gladys Berejiklian breached public trust over a potential conflict of interest during her secret relationship with Mr Maguire.

The watchdog is looking at whether Ms Berejiklian ignored alleged corrupt conduct.

Fronting a budget estimates hearing on Monday, Attorney-General Mark Speakman confirmed Mr Maguire’s legal costs were still being met by the people of NSW.

“I don’t know whether all his legal costs are being met,” Mr Speakman said.

“I don’t know whether there is a gap between that part that the state is funding on the one hand, and what he might be personally incurring on the other hand.”

Mr Speakman said Mr Maguire’s legal costs were being covered under the ICAC Act as a witness in a public inquiry, which was approved by the Attorney-General’s delegate.

Financial assistance can be approved by the attorney-general or his delegate if it is considered appropriate having regard to the prospect of hardship to the person if it was declined, the significance of the evidence they will give and any other matter relating to public interest.

“The decision to grant him legal assistance was not one made by me, but under delegation by the then secretary of the department,” Mr Speakman said.

“In all these cases, given the potential controversy about granting legal assistance to any current or former politicians, it’s been my practice to keep well away … from the decision-making.”

It was put to Mr Speakman that the public now had “more information” about Mr Maguire’s “behaviour” and that the attorney-general should ask his delegate to review the appropriateness of continuing to pay Mr Maguire’s legal fees.

“I think it’s very important that in these cases before ICAC there is no political interference one way or another with the provision of legal assistance,” Mr Speakman said.

“I intend to keep at arm’s length from that … I do not intend to involve myself in any decisions about legal assistance to any witness to ICAC.

“It’s important that politicians, or that ministers, keep well away from those decisions.”

Mr Speakman said it was a condition of legal assistance that if there was a criminal finding against the witness then there would be a “clawback” of that money.

Department of Communities and Justice acting secretary Catherine D’Elia could not say how much had already been paid so far to cover Mr Maguire’s legal costs.

“I would have to take that on notice,” she said.

Ms D’Elia said generally it would cost $180 per hour, plus GST, for preparatory attendance to a maximum of three hours.

It would cost a further $240 per hour, plus GST, to a maximum of $1440, plus GST, for attendance before ICAC, she added.

Mr Speakman said he had no role in the application brought by the Department of Premier and Cabinet to have the bulk of the ICAC hearings last week and this week — in relation to cabinet in confidence documents — in private.

He said he did not know about it until Ms Berejiklian’s lawyer made the application on Friday morning.

“I was unaware (before that) of any application to keep any part of last week’s evidence confidential, private, suppressed — however you want to put it,” he said.

Asked if he was aware of a submission made by the department on October 14 that all matters regarding cabinet in confidence documents should be in private hearings, he said: “To the best of my recollection, no.”

Further asked if this was the first time he had become aware that the application was made by the department, he replied: “To the best of my recollection, yes.”

Originally published as NSW Attorney-General reveals why he will not review decision to pay Daryl Maguire’s ICAC legal costs

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Police Minister David Elliott reveals fines for public health order breaches in NSW Covid outbreak

The NSW Police Minister has revealed how many people copped fines for breaches of public health orders, but says officers didn’t like handing them out.

NSW residents have racked up an eye-watering number of fines under the state’s public health orders since the start of the pandemic.

Officers were given extraordinary powers to enforce Covid-19 restrictions under amendments to the NSW Public Health Act, which saw people fined for a range of alleged rule breaking from straying too far from home, through to protesting at violent anti-lockdown rallies.

Police Minister David Elliott said on Friday that to the first day of October, 51,642 people had been issued infringement notices for public health order breaches and 15,294 slapped with fines for not wearing masks.

Under the orders, 5691 court attendance notices and 2346 youth cautions were handed out and 296,897 businesses were inspected by police, Mr Elliott said.

“That says to me the tempo of the operation was at a level that I don’t think the police are going to see for quite some time,” he told a budget estimates hearing.

The NSW police force has faced criticism from those who say officers took a heavy-handed approach to Covid-19 compliance, while the often-changing restrictions caused confusion in the community.

Mr Elliott said on Friday it was the legitimate role of a sworn police officer to ensure the public health orders were enforced, even if they weren’t always comfortable with doing so.

“From a policy point of view, it’s not as if we could get nurses and doctors out enforcing these health orders,” he said.

“Did they like doing it? No, they didn’t like it. You don’t have to be an expert in policing to know that.

“Many of them were very, very conscious of the fact that the community was at a heightened state of anxiety, and the inability of people to understand the orders from one day to the next.”

Earlier this week, the NSW Bureau of Crime and Statistics released figures showing NSW Police issued an “extraordinary” 36,597 Covid-19 public health order breaches in July and August this year amid the delta-variant outbreak.

A BOCSAR study found police disproportionately issued fines in western and southwestern Sydney during this period, with 37 per cent of breaches detected in the local government areas “of concern”.

The Berejiklian government introduced more severe restrictions in 12 LGAs in a bid to curb rising infection rates in certain parts of the city.

These LGAs are home to 28 per cent of the state’s total population, but accounted for 78 per cent of new Covid-19 infections recorded in NSW in July and August.

“Interestingly, the study suggests that compliance was greater in LGAs of concern, possibly because the Covid-19 risk was higher or possibly due to more enforcement,” BOCSAR executive director Jackie Fitzgerald said on Wednesday.

Originally published as NSW Police Minister David Elliott faces questions over Covid compliance

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NSW Skills and Tertiary Education Minister Geoff Lee grilled on TAFE sell-off during budget estimates

A secret document outlining plans to sell off NSW TAFE properties has made for a fiery state budget estimates hearing.

The NSW government has failed to rule out the sale or partial sale of 19 TAFE properties after secret documents exposed plans for a sell-off.

Skills and Tertiary Education Minister Geoff Lee was grilled during a fiery budget estimates on Thursday on details of the proposal.

A document from NSW TAFE was sent to Mr Lee in September last year, seeking approval for the full or partial sale of 19 “surplus” sites during the 2020-21 and 2021-22 financial years.

However, Mr Lee said he couldn’t recall the document nor a specific briefing about it.

He described it as an “early draft” that his chief of staff signed as not approved on his behalf.

“To my recollection, I’ve never seen this document,” Mr Lee told estimates.

“I’m sure the chief of staff may have briefed me about it, but it certainly hasn’t been approved.

“I don’t think there was enough detail in terms of the whole components of each one of those.”

“You don’t remember being briefed on the sale of more than 10 per cent of your portfolio? Are you saying that hasn’t happened?” opposition spokeswoman for better regulation Courtney Houssos asked.

“We discuss campuses and the way that we deliver services every week in terms of this portfolio,” Mr Lee replied.

Mr Lee denied Labor accusations the document was tantamount to a “fire sale” with TAFE providing a “shopping list” of campuses to offload.

“It’d be absolutely misleading (to say a fire sale). We always follow strict protocol of the NSW government,” he said.

But Mr Lee stopped short when pressed by the opposition to rule out the sale of the 19 sites.

“It’d be silly for me to actually say anything in terms of what’s going to happen in the future,” he said.

“We’ll consider each site and we regularly review our portfolio right across the state.

“Communities don’t have to be concerned with the way we manage our portfolio of property. In fact, we’re spending 100 times more investment in our infrastructure, so we’ll consider things as they come along over time.”

TAFE NSW managing director Steffan Faurby said he did not sign off on the document and it was a working draft.

“The very best of my recollection, I certainly did not approve it and I cannot recall seeing this document before, no,” he said.

“If it’s a formal recommendation from TAFE NSW it certainly would have my signature on it.”

Labor said the document followed the state government’s decision to impose a “sneaky” privatisation target on government departments and agencies, including TAFE.

These sales were expected to net more than $120m, which would be on top of 13 campuses that had already been sold and netted more than $81m.

“This is the continuation of this government’s ongoing attacks on TAFE,” opposition tertiary education spokesman Tim Crakanthorp said.

“In the midst of a skills shortage, this government should be investing in hands-on training opportunities, not shutting down and selling campuses in western Sydney and regional NSW.”

Mr Lee said no TAFE site would be sold unless he was guaranteed by the Treasurer the money would be reinvested into TAFE infrastructure.

Originally published as NSW Skills and Tertiary Education Minister Geoff Lee grilled on TAFE sell-off during budget estimates

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Kevin Anderson grilled over Aya Eliza, Atmosphere defective apartment buildings in Western Sydney

Prospective homebuyers are not being warned of the potential flaws in several ‘notorious’ Sydney apartment buildings.

Homebuyers are not being warned about the potential risks of purchasing apartments in “notoriously” flawed Sydney towers, months after their defects were revealed.

Apartments in the Aya Eliza towers in Auburn and the Atmosphere building in Castle Hill, which have respectively been under “prohibition orders” since March and June, are being advertised for sale for between $430,000 and $820,000.

These NSW Fair Trading restrictions mean the occupation certificates that people require to move into a new building can’t be issued to homebuyers.

NSW Better Regulation Minister Kevin Anderson couldn’t explain at a budget estimates hearing on Wednesday what action he had taken since then to ensure that homebuyers were aware if buildings were under prohibition orders.

Four months have passed since NSW Building Commissioner David Chandler publicly described the Aya Eliza towers as the worst building he had ever inspected.

Mr Chandler told the hearing the Atmosphere and Aya Eliza buildings each housed more than 200 apartments.

He said they were the only developments under prohibition orders that had people living in them.

The prohibition orders on these buildings meant that only “interim” but not “final” occupation certificates could be issued to people who bought apartments in them.

Goodenia Developments, whose director is the founder of Western Sydney high-rise apartment developer Merhis Group, is behind the 16-storey Aya Eliza building at 93 Auburn Road that has been subject to a multiple complaints.

Toplace Group was ordered in June to fix cladding issues on the Atmosphere apartment block at 299-309 Old Northern Road, Castle Hill over waterproofing concerns that could cause “dangerous conditions” for residents.

Mr Chandler said on Wednesday that while both complexes were “habitable”, it was “not desirable” for people to be buying into defective buildings.

Speaking at the hearing, Labor MP Courtney Houssos asked Mr Anderson what he had done since June to ensure homebuyers were informed of potential defects.

“A series of apartments were raised with you four months ago, properties that were for sale that were not disclosing important information,” she said.

She claimed real estate agents were failing to disclose that the “notorious” buildings were under prohibition orders in their advertisements and when speaking to prospective homebuyers or tenants.

“There are currently two properties that are for sale in the Atmosphere building, which don’t disclose that they are subject of prohibition orders,” she said.

“And I can let you know that I spoke to the real estate agent this morning and he made no disclosure of the prohibition orders.”

Ms Houssos said the Real Estate Institute of NSW had told her there was very little knowledge of prohibition orders among agents.

“The peak body for real estate agents is telling you there’s a problem. It was raised four months ago on the front page of a major metropolitan newspaper,” she said.

“And it appears that your government’s response to protect apartment owners from buying into deeply defective buildings is to say ‘we’ll send a couple of emails to real estate agents’.”

Mr Anderson said he would investigate and that vendors and real estate agents were obliged to disclose this information to buyers.

He said the Perrottet government would imminently announce its appointment to the new role of property services commissioner, who will further scrutinise the industry.

The watchdog would look at the “areas that needed to be fixed” and improve communication between developers, real estate agents and homebuyers.

Shooters, Fishers and Farmers MP Mark Banasiak asked what regulatory powers the commissioner would have.

“Looking at something isn’t really a power. Once they’ve finished looking at it, what specific powers or enforcement action will they be able to take?” he asked.

Greens MP David Shoebridge suggested: “X-Ray vision”.

Mr Anderson said he considered the new commissioner’s role “very seriously” and that they would be given the resources to do their role.

Originally published as Kevin Anderson grilled over regulations on selling ‘notorious’ defective Sydney apartment buildings

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