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Planning Paralysis



@ The Coalface has been calling for an overhaul of the planning system for years and we’re not alone. In September, the NSW Minerals Council launched a public advertising campaign calling for urgent changes to the system. Finally, it looks like action is being taken.

This year the Independent Planning Commission (IPC) has been under the spotlight for some controversial decisions made on Hunter mine projects. Here’s a recap of the last few months.

In August we saw the IPC reject the Dartbrook Mine’s 5 year extension proposal. The mine was approved to December 2022 and had applied for an additional 5 years, however the IPC found that to not be in the public interest. Refusal of the extension raises questions about whether the mine will go ahead.

Then later in August we saw the IPC approve the United Wambo project – with a Scope 3 emissions condition, a condition where it can only export coal to signatories of the Paris Agreement or countries with similar controls on emissions. 

In September, the IPC rejected the KEPCO Bylong Coal Project saying the mine was not in the public interest. This refusal came after more than 7 years of assessment despite strong support from the local community, local MPs, local council, local businesses, and the Department of Planning Infrastructure and Environment which assessed that the project was approvable with conditions.

Then on October 4, the IPC approved the Rix’s Creek Continuation Project only to withdraw the consent hours later. It said an “administrative error” had resulted in the invalid determination being issued prior to the deadline for additional information. With 300 jobs on the line it’s quite a mistake to make. The approval did end up coming through on October 12, but the mistake had already been made.

After all these controversial decisions, the NSW Minerals Council launched their ad campaign which called for urgent changes to the NSW planning system to protect NSW jobs and the economy. 

NSW Minerals Council CEO Stephen Galilee said the decision to initiate the campaign was not taken lightly and came after months of engagement and warnings to the Minister for Planning and others in the government about the risk of the planning system to jobs and investment.

“While the Deputy Premier and others in the NSW Government have shown strong support for mining projects and mining communities, the Planning Minister seems oblivious to the damage being done by the crisis in his planning system, especially in the regions. The industry has repeatedly warned the Planning Minister of the risks to the NSW economy and has been reassured that reforms to planning timeframes and processes would be pursued. However, no action has been taken and the problems have only gotten worse,” said Mr Galilee.

In March 2018 the Independent Planning Commission (IPC) replaced the Planning Assessment Commission (PAC). Its remit was to consider development applications for mining and other major projects in NSW by conducting public hearings on planning and development matters and providing independent advice to the department and minister. The IPC would act as the final determination authority for NSW planning projects.

But as the Minerals Council’s campaign pointed out, the NSW Government has repeatedly fast-tracked its own large and controversial projects through the state planning system, bypassing the IPC, while expecting other major projects to endure a lengthy, uncertain and costly assessment process that is costing jobs and investment in NSW.

The NSW Government has not submitted a single one of its own significant infrastructure projects to the long and dysfunctional process that other major projects in NSW have to endure, including the controversial Sydney CBD Light Rail, Sydney Football Stadium, Parramatta Light Rail, and Westconnex projects.

The NSW Government can declare – with virtually no recourse for appeal – projects ‘state significant infrastructure’ (SSI). This allows the NSW Government projects to bypass the IPC and approval lies with the Minister for Planning. In fact, the IPC plays no role in the determination or assessment of SSI projects. Assessment times for SSI projects are also significantly quicker.

Perhaps to divert attention back off this, the government has recently made some big announcements in the planning arena.

The NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes recently requested the Productivity Commissioner to conduct a review of the IPC and report back to the Minister by mid-December 2019.

The review will examine, among other things, the operations and processes of the Commission in the State’s planning framework and whether it is in the public interest to maintain an IPC.

The government has also taken another step to prevent the regulation of scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions in mining approvals like what we saw in the United Wambo project. 

For a coalmine, scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions are largely from the burning of the coal after it is sold into the market, including overseas. It’s like selling a car to someone and then being held responsible for the emissions they burn while driving that car. Nations have agreed to take responsibility for national emissions, and it is neither practical nor plausible for a state government agency to determine or manage the responses of other nations.

NSW Minister for Resources John Barilaro said the government will take legislative and other policy action to provide clarity on how ‘Scope 3’ emissions are treated within the NSW planning assessment system. 

This legislation will be highly welcomed as the increasing uncertainty on how ‘Scope 3’ emissions are treated within the NSW planning assessment system has become a significant barrier to investment in NSW and a real threat to jobs and the economy, particularly in regional NSW.

While all these actions are welcomed, more action will be needed to restore confidence in the NSW planning system. Uncertainty has been caused to a large extent by the current role of the IPC as part of the planning assessment process. 

The planning process is inconsistent and difficult to navigate, and makes investment in NSW unattractive. Of course, projects of scale like those in mining should have to pass through a filter that ensures genuine merit, accountability and the correct regulatory framework to be compliant and to be in the public interest. All voices should have a chance to be heard but approval should not be based on ideological views. Most importantly, the system needs to be streamlined so that timeframes are reasonable and do not drag on for years and years. 

Let’s hope the post review future of planning delivers something of real value, a sensible approach and efficiency. 

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Leading Lady



Now one of the most influential leaders in the resources industry, Sarah Withell came from humble beginnings, growing up on the banks of the Hawkesbury River in NSW. 

Sarah Withell is currently Head of HSE Business Partnership – BMC & NSWEC at BHP. Her journey to this top position will not only inspire you but may surprise you.

Sarah grew up on the Hawkesbury River in a tiny community with only around 100 houses. The community was close knit and kids would spend all day outside not coming home until the streetlights came on.

Interestingly enough, in the small town is a mental hospital. Because of this the local community and schools were exposed to a large variety of different people from all different backgrounds. “It was a really accepting community and I think that’s one of the things that helped shape me. Plus, I went to an all-girls school and that really shaped me a lot as well,” said Sarah.

“We used to have a lot of really fabulous teachers and all of what they did was to inspire you – there were no limitations on girls, girls can do whatever they want to do.”

“I think what actually comes out of that as well is that a number of my friends from school have gone on to lead really exciting careers, and really different careers all over the world. They’ve also managed to achieve this success while raising families.”

As a youngster Sarah did a gap year where she worked for one of the big accounting firms at the time called Archer Andersons. “It was a real eye opener for me being able to work in that organisation. You really got to see the benefits of having a professional degree,” said Sarah.

With many females in the organisation in senior levels to look up to for guidance, when they encouraged Sarah to go onto university she followed their advice.

During university, Sarah did all sorts of different roles like working in laundry mats, waitressing and bartending. She even did a ski season down at the snow.

“I did my degree and I then I did some work for an environmental consulting company. While I was working there, I had a colleague who left the organisation to do work in the Northern Territory in roads construction,” said Sarah. “They seemed to have a really good time and so I became interested in trying to get a job in a remote part of Australia, specifically in the Northern part of Australia.”

Thinking about what kind of work she wanted to do, Sarah was drawn to the number of mines in the Northern part of Australia and ended up interviewing for a job at the Century Zinc Mine in the Gulf of Carpentaria. Going through the interview process, including an interview in Brisbane, Sarah remembers feeling excited from the moment she walked in. “I just really wanted that job and so I was fortunate I managed to do a really good interview,” she said.

“I really didn’t know what I was getting into and I was lucky enough that my boss came with me on my first trip up there or I might have changed my mind. We got into the smallest plane I have ever seen, and the landing pad was just a dirt strip,” Sarah chuckled.

Going up North, Sarah had the mindset that she would leave after 6 months if she didn’t like it. By the end of her first week she thought she would be lucky to last 6 weeks.

But before long Sarah found that the job was everything she had hoped it would be and more. Before she knew it three years had gone by. She loved all the challenges of working remotely and the unbelievable work situations it brought about, plus it allowed her to see some of the most amazing and beautiful parts of Australia. But the best part was working with the indigenous communities and the property owners up there which made it not only interesting for Sarah, but extremely rewarding.

“But the whole reason I went up there was the whole reason I left – just how remote it actually is. Eventually I decided it was time to try and get a little bit closer to home,” she said.

When asked what she currently loves about her job, it became apparent that the community, her team and her connections were important. “Compared to when I first started in the industry, the way we now work in with the community is really important and we’re talking a lot more now about social value. I think particularly in the Hunter Valley we are unique because we’ve operated in that space for quite some time.”

These days the community often come forward to the mining industry when they think they aren’t doing the right thing or expectations aren’t being met which Sarah said is a good thing. “We need to continue to get better and if the community don’t tell us how they’re feeling or what they are thinking then we find ourselves not being at the forefront of where we want to be.”

From an environmental perspective, Sarah said, “it’s all about making sure we leave a really good legacy.”

Aside from her flat-out working career, Sarah has taken up a love for running starting around 3 years ago at local park runs. From there, picking up distances as well, Sarah competes in a half marathon every year.

“The kids also keep us pretty busy with sport, but we have been really enjoying some of this time during the COVID-19 with the ability to work from home,” said Sarah.

“We can go for a walk in the afternoon and because I am in Singleton, just around the corner from us is a paddock that’s got lovely horses in it, so we take the kids down to pat them.”

Back into the swing of things with COVID restrictions lightening and work around Australia getting back on track, Sarah’s time management and planning ideals have become more important than ever as she takes on more and more roles in our industry.

One of those is as a mentor with the ‘Women in Mining’ mentoring group. Another is Chair of the Upper Hunter Mining Dialogue. All this on top of working fulltime and raising a family. She really is a powerhouse. Need more proof? Sarah also won the award for Exceptional Woman in NSW Mining in 2019. For Sarah it was humbling to receive the recognition for a job that she loves to do.

“I was proud to receive the award, but what makes me really proud is when a member of my team does really well,” said Sarah, expressing the importance of empowerment. “They all support each other and they all give each other recognition as well,” said Sarah proudly.

What advice does this born leader have to share? “One of my best pieces of advice is be prepared to take a risk. Don’t be scared to jump in sight unseen and take the gamble. Take those opportunities when they are offered because they often don’t get offered twice. It’s also really important to have people around you who believe in you.”

Sarah also has a lot of advice for those looking to enter our industry. “It’s an incredibly rewarding industry and there is a huge amount of variety. It’s only once you get into the industry that you realise how many opportunities that there actually are as it’s requires people with so many different skill sets. I’d encourage people to actually think about what they like to do and then find a role that allows you to apply that skill set, whether directly or indirectly.”

Sarah’s not leaving our industry anytime soon, recently accepting an Executive General Manager role with Whitehaven Coal after 12 years with BHP. “I am still staying in the industry and I am really excited about this next step for me at a higher level role,” Sarah concluded.

All in all, Sarah Withell really is an exceptional woman both in the mining industry and as a Hunter Valley community member. We can’t wait to see what she achieves in the years to come.

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You’ll be missed Poppy



You could have knocked us over with a feather when we heard the news that good mate of @The Coalface, Glen ‘Poppy’ Rae, unexpectedly called last drinks on a life we were all proud to be a part of.

Despite looking very old for his years due to a tough paper round as a kid, losing his hair at a young age, and the more than occasional bit of biff on the footy field and in the pub, he was only 47 years young. He squeezed a lot out of his time though and we are left with a mountain of great memories dwarfed only by the size of his heart and strength of his character.

As owner and Managing Director of Valley Maintenance Solutions, success came to him the hard way, through bloody hard work, tenacity and an unwavering desire to give the best life he could to his family who he loved more than words can say.

Poppy started in the mining industry as a Boilermaker over 20 years ago and had various roles with different contracting companies as a Supervisor, Safety Advisor and a Maintenance Manager.

He was also passionate about community, sponsoring local sporting clubs and getting on board with any cause that helped the community and its people.

For a loud, opinionated and hard man, he really was a great big softy.

Much of the following words were said by those who cherished him and alternated through tears of love and loss and uncontrollable laughter at his goodbye.

Poppy was too young to leave this world. Full of potential, he still had so much to give. His service should have been attended by a thousand, if not double or triple that, but the old ‘Rona’ buggered him and his plans for mass adulation and mourning…that and a huge bloody wake!

Poppy’s childhood sweetheart, partner and the love of his life for 31 years was Allison. It was a big, big love. Their boys Charlie and Max and of course Lachlan, were and are his and Alison’s pride, joy and purpose in life.

Charlie and Max found a card he wrote not so long ago, ‘To my beautiful wife I knew we would be together for ever. You’re a great mother and an even better wife. Together forever x.’ It turns out he was a bit of a romantic as well.

Poppy always aimed up when the going was at its toughest. A typical Aussie bloke, he was a bit rough around the edges, but truly a diamond in the rough. He was no pushover and could handle himself equally as well as he could charm the pants off someone.

He always tried to better himself and built a very successful business in mining with Valley Maintenance Solutions.

If you ever needed anything he was always there. If you were an asshole you would never have got to know him. He had no patience and that trait led to many funny stories.

He never thought he was better than anyone else and he always said it straight, good or bad. “If you don’t like it you can all go and get f#@*ed.” Was a common theme if he thought it needed to be said. No airs and graces doesn’t begin to describe Poppy.

And there were some colourful stories;

His Mum used to send him to the shops as a kid to buy a pack of Viscounts. Poppy would return home with one missing and say that they came that way when he bought them.

Then there was the bus full of Rae family and friends going to the Newy races in February. A few young punks thought it a good idea to harass some of his clan back at the bus to go home. Predictably, he applied ‘Poppy style diplomacy’ and got into a brawl and taught the brave young-un’s that it’s never a good idea to try to hijack a bus in the name of Rae.

Andrew Hughes who proudly called him his best mate said, “Some called him a smart ass and he always said, ‘You have to be smart or you’re always an ass.’ The door was always open with Poppy. He had a heart of gold. Loved a bloody golf day. We once played with Mark Waugh and at the end he said ‘I’ll never look at golf again the same.’”

Football was a religion to him. And everyone at a game understood this very bloody well. He loved his mates; the sessions were brutal and the weak never stood a chance.

Poppy loved telling a story. He also loved a vodka and passionfruit and brown Gatorate.

Harder than four-unit maths. Tougher than a brick shit house.

The Maitland Red Dogs was his footy team and like life he gave it everything up till the full-time siren. Giving the round ball game a go, violence ended his soccer career prematurely.

A rat bag, a pearler, as loyal as the day is long, a beer, a yarn, a smoke and a blu meant you made the most of the day.

We luv ya mate!

From your good mates, your work mates and most of all Allison, Charlie and Max, thanks for everything. Enjoy a cold one with Lachlan…This is no goodbye, it’s a see ya later mate. 

You will never be forgotten.

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Products Made with Passion



The passionate team at Newcastle Distilling Co. truly embody the spirit of the Hunter, with quality at the heart of everything they do.

Beginning 6 years ago down on the South Coast, after moving for a tree change, Novocastrian Lucas Cattell started his own little brewery and distillery before moving home to Newcastle to be closer to family about 18 months ago. Rebranded as Newcastle Distilling Co. Lucas Cattell, his wife Mackenzie Cattell, Emma Banister and Lachlan Barden now make up the company and to be frank, have worked their butts off to keep pushing forward their beloved brand.

Moving from the South Coast, then to a space in Beresfield and finally to their current space in Shortland around 12 months ago where they were sharing this space with 5 other businesses, it has been quite the journey. “It was pretty intense with the 5 running businesses in the one space – at some stages there would be 10-20 people in here,” Lucas chuckled.

“We were limited to a small corner, which was the entire space we had, the stills, all of the equipment, everything in that little space until they all moved out late 2019.”

Christmas came along and as always, was a hectic time for Newcastle Distilling Co as with any other business. Unfortunately, the bushfires that followed, the bad weather and rain and then COVID-19 hitting resulted in around an 80% loss of business.

But with team determination and adaptability of this distillery, the only way forward was up. Starting with 1 still last year and 3,000 litres of storage, they now have 3 stills and 25,000 litres of storage – so in 6 months have increased capacity nearly 10 times. “It’s survive or die to reach our goals, that’s all it is,” said Lucas.

“We either go thinking outside the box and try and make it happen or walk away and I have invested every single cent I have for the last six years into this, so walking away wasn’t an option.”

Lucas has been distilling for 18 years and commercially for six. “I started at home in my garage like most distillers do, making vodka and moonshine, every batch from scratch, the old school way,” he said.

From the labels, design and even hand drawn images, to the spirits and flavours – every aspect of each product is made by the team. “Every product we make is made from scratch which is significantly more work, less cost but more work, but we love it,” Lucas said.

“One of the biggest benefits of making our own products from scratch is we have 100% control over the quality of the spirit and process – we can take it to the next level.”

The Distillery have 10 spirits in their range, 16 cocktail cans and 12 liquors so in the next 3 months will have across the counter around 40 odd products.

The Whiskey named after Lucas’s late Grandfather and the rum named after his boat, Newcastle Distillery Co are currently the first and only producer currently with releases of whiskey and rum in the Hunter.

Starting from humble beginnings, the small team have got pretty big plans currently running an investment drive to raise capital to build a brewery, with hopes to brew beer on site as well. They also have their Whisky Founders Club. “We imported 10 barrels from Laphroaig Distillery in Scotland and we’re making whisky and ageing it in them,” Lucas said.

“People buy a membership and every year they get a bottle, and at the end of the 10 years they have a collection.”

Lucas’s ability to adapt became quite apparent in March when COVID hit, and the team faced losing pretty much every way of making money. “Lucas said we need to keep swimming, or we are just going to drown, and the hand sanitiser was born,” said team member Emma.

“We were quite fortunate to be in a position to help quite a few nursing homes, Hunter Tafe, a lot of the local schools, the university, emergency services – they all ordered sanitiser from us so to be in that position to know that we were in some way helping some of those from the front lines, it gives you those warm fuzzies.”

Newcastle Distillery Co have one big mantra and have made it clear it’s the most important thing – quality over quantity – and that’s what they have 100% focused on. “If it’s not good enough we don’t sell it and if we make a mistake, we fix it,” said Lucas.

“This is my future, I didn’t build this to run really quickly and sell to the highest bidder, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life and hopefully one day pass this on to my kids.”

“It will come back, it is happening, for us we need to just keep building those relationships with local bottle shops, connecting with investors and moving forward.”


Australian Small Batch Craft Distillery of the Year

Lux Food and Wine Magazine 2019

Victor Hingston Single Malt Whiskey

Silver Medal in the Royal Australian Spirit Awards 2019

Sparrow Jack Spiced Rum

Double Gold at the China world spirit awards 2020

To find out more or to place an order go to

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