BY MICHELLE HARRIS STATE POLITICS Newcastle Herald 1 Dec 2010
Nearly three-quarters of the lucrative coalmining royalties the state government collects come from the Hunter, the NSW Auditor General has reported.
The report showed the Hunter contributed $897 million, or 73 per cent, of the state total of $1.233billion paid to the government in 2008-09. If Gloucester’s $21million is counted, the region contributed 75 per cent of the coal tally.
The report, released yesterday, said the government had missed out on about $8million over the past five years because the Department of Industry and Investment did not have a robust process to identify what mining companies owed and to make sure it was paid.
The findings have prompted calls for an overhaul of arrangements for collecting royalties and for a fairer share of the Hunter coal industry’s multimillion-dollar annual contribution to the state budget to be invested back into the region.
Muswellbrook mayor Martin Rush said the report confirmed the Hunter was the ‘‘engine room of the state’’ but that none of the benefits were being returned directly to the region, as affected councils carried the burden of providing local infrastructure to support the booming industry.
Opposition industry and energy spokesman Duncan Gay said he understood the frustration of regions such as the Hunter which wanted a ‘‘fairer share’’.
Asked if a Coalition government would adopt a policy of a percentage of royalties being returned to the Hunter, Mr Gay said the details were being discussed but that the Coalition recognised that mining-affected regions needed ‘‘special help’’.
A NSW Minerals Council spokesman said it had been discussing a potential royalties-for-mining-regions scheme with ‘‘both sides of government’’, focusing on its support for infrastructure investment in regional NSW.
Industry Minister Steve Whan said the audit recommendations would be implemented, including a review of the merits of transferring the collection of royalties to the Office of State Revenue.
‘‘I am advised that if the [$8 million] figure is correct, it would equate to 0.27 per cent of the nearly $3.5 billion collected by the department [in five years],’’ Mr Whan said.