For the purpose of overview, here’s a timeline of a few key events. Most can be verified by documents archived here.
April 2010: The Proponent lodges its original application to the NSW Department of Planning & Environment (DPE).
October 2010: The DPE receives submissions from other government agencies, non-government organisations, and the public. As per standard practice, they forward all submissions, without any comment or action on behalf of the Department, to the proponent (mining company) for response.
December 2010: In its Response to Submissions, the proponent tallies 12 submissions in support of the Dargues Gold Mine, versus some 1,136 in objection (most of which the company does not describe as objections; of this number the company formally recognises only 50 ‘in objection’ by excluding pro-forma and other submissions from the tally).
May 2011: The DPE recommends that the project be approved by the Planning Assessment Commission (PAC).
August 23, 2011: The PAC holds a public meeting in Braidwood to hear face-to-face presentations from all interested parties, including the public. The meeting lasts some nine hours, in which the PAC hears near-consecutive and unanimous objection to the Dargues Gold Mine. Among the only supporters are the company themselves, who are given the last word.
September 2011: The Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) grants approval; the approval is appealed by Coastwatchers, the Eurobodalla Shire Council, and the South East Regional Conservation Alliance.
February 2012: The New South Wales Land and Environment Court “upholds” the appeal, but does not rescind approval of the mine. Instead, it re-issues approval subject to stringent conditions & limitations, and confirms the operational deadline of August 31, 2018 (after which mining is no longer permitted).
April 2012: The Proponent applies to modify the project (Mod 1), beyond the limitations set by the court (use of paste fill; the storage of waste material [tailings] underground). The Land and Environment Court is not involved, rather the application goes before the DPE.
The company claim that this process of circumventing the Court and altering its Orders (“Modification” of the conditions of approval) is enabled by a (now repealed) section of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act (EP&A Act) of 1979 (part 3A, section 75W). This withdrawn legislation allows the Minister of Planning to bypass the court in modifying the conditions of approval, but only if the modification would result in ‘limited environmental consequences’. Problematically, it is the Minister, and not the Court, who has discretion in applying this assessment. Further, although the law is repealed, it may still apply to projects approved during its validity.
July 2012: Mod 1 is approved by the DPE, and the court order is modified accordingly by the state government.
February 2013: The Proponent commences the initial construction phase (bulk earthworks). The Proponent is fined by the Environment Protection Authority for three counts of water pollution, due to uncontrolled discharges of sediment-laden water, mixed with a toxic flocculating agent, into Spring Creek (drinking water catchment).
July 2013: The Proponent applies to modify the project (Mod 2) under the premise of boundary changes; further alterations to the court order to include the word ‘generally’ to qualify the company’s compliance with the company’s own Environmental Assessment and Statement of Commitments.
October 2013: Mod 2 is approved by the DPE, further reducing the court order as per the above.
July 2015: The Proponent applies to modify the project (Mod 3) to further erode the conditions of the court order. This includes the use of cyanide to produce gold ore concentrate on-site, despite a promise to the public that this would ‘never’ occur.
August 2015: The DPE receives some 475 written submissions from all interested parties (of which around 415 are objections), and forwards them directly to the mining company.
September 2015: The Proponent is forced to withdraw cyanide-processing plans by the Environmental Protection Authority. The incumbent CEO resigns, but the company persists with seeking other controversial aspects of Modification 3, including extension of the mining licence (from August 31, 2018, to 31 December, 2024), a 33% increase in ore extraction, and more. Due the passage of time, the entire operation now depends on Mod 3 for the extension of operational life.
November 2015: The company publishes its Response to Submissions (on Mod 3). Therein, it states that, with the exception of cyanide processing, the gold mine ‘continues’ to receive ‘general community support’. This document doubles as a ‘revised’ application for Modification (3).
December 2015: The public and all other parties are given a short and largely unadvertised window (two weeks) to make submissions on Modification 3 as revised. By request of the Majors Creek Catchment Guardians, a two-week extension is granted by the DPE. The Department receives over 55 submissions; all are in objection, bar several by way of comment. There are zero submissions in support.
June 2016: The DPE recommends to the PAC that Modification 3 be approved, and alters the mining deadline “sought by the company” to June 30, 2025.
July 2016: The PAC hears public presentations on Modification 3 before making their determination. 22 of 23 speakers are opposed (with 1 registered speaker stating that he supported Mod 3, while remaining critical of the withdrawal of commitments). Following the scheduled presentations, one unregistered speaker (seated with the company throughout) is permitted to present, to the dismay of all who registered as per the requirements. He is pro-mine, and has the final word, along with the mining company. The crowd’s objection is ‘noted’ by the PAC chairman, who later signs his name to the approval.
August 2016: The PAC grants approval to Mod 3. The 2012 Land and Environment Court Order is now altered such that the mine will operate under inferior environmental stringency to before the court action (due to the company’s withdrawal of commitments).