THE NSW government has rammed through new laws giving it the power to cancel coal leases granted by former disgraced mining minister Ian Macdonald which enriched NSW ALP Powerbroker Eddie Obeid and union boss John Maitland.
Premier Barry O'Farrell told parliament today he would amend the Mining Act to give the government the power to apply a public interest test to coal licences. The change will, in effect, give the government to power to cancel or not renew licences granted corruptly.
The government is still waiting for a report from the Independent Commission Against Corruption about what it should do with the licences. The report is due by the end of the year, but parliament is expected to rise for the year next week.
Mr O'Farrell said: "I hoped to receive that report before Parliament rose, but that is clearly now not going to be the case," he said.
"While we do not presume to pre-empt the advice of the ICAC, it's important the NSW government is in a position to act if necessary on any recommendations.
"Currently there is no general power to cancel a mining exploration licence in circumstances where the granting of the licence, or the licence-holder itself, is otherwise somehow tainted by corruption.
"Accordingly, the Bill that I am introducing seeks to amend the Mining and Onshore Petroleum legislation to ensure that, if and when it becomes necessary to do so following ICAC's report, the NSW Government will have a specific power to cancel or refuse to renew a licence or other mining title.
The ICAC has said that Mr Macdonald acted corruptly in awarding the licences.
The first, granted over the family farm of NSW factional warlord Eddie Obeid, resulted in his family receiving $30 million, with the ICAC estimating that they could receive up to $100 million if the mine was approved.
The second was for a "training mine" at Doyles Creek which was granted without tender to a consortium headed by former mining union boss John Maitland.
Since then, NuCoal acquired Doyles Creek Mining for $94 million in February 2010, making a profit of up to $14 million for Mr Maitland, who remains a shareholder.
NuCoal has threatened to sue the NSW Government if it doesn't make a decision on the mine by the end of January.
Today's legislation seeks to cut off that possible challenge before parliament rises for the summer break. It is expected to pass the NSW Upper House, with the support of the Labor party, later today.