DUBBO'S John Walkom stood before NSW Treasurer Mike Baird yesterday morning and asked if the state government could create "economic zones" to help businesses and communities reported to be disadvantaged by the potential delay in the building and operating of the proposed Cobbora coal mine.
The chairman of Regional Development Australia (RDA) Orana is keen to see the government alleviate any economic or social fallout from the mine's uncertain future by "bringing forward budgeted expenditure" for projects that would generate jobs and support economies.
Suggested projects ranged from the rejuvenation of the Dubbo saleyards to the restoration of sections of the Golden Highway.
"These are the sorts of projects to bring forward to sustain the businesses in the affected regions until the mine gets up," Mr Walkom told the Daily Liberal.
The RDA Orana chairman, who was among about 180 people who joined the Treasurer at a community forum, got a "totally understand" response from Mr Baird before he passed the microphone to Dubbo MP Troy Grant.
The MP advised of a Legislative Assembly inquiry into economic zones, likely to hold a public hearing at Dubbo in the new year.
Earlier, the crowd listened intently as representatives of Warrumbungle Shire Council told of the "detrimental" impact of the proposed mine on Dunedoo.
Deputy mayor Murray Coe said 35 families had moved on, including more than a dozen children, with rural businesses feeling their loss.
Land values were being impacted by their properties being bought for "three, four and five times" their real worth, he said.
"We're all going to foot the bill," the deputy mayor said.
This month the government shocked the region when announcing a contractual obligation made by its Labor predecessor to supply power generators with cheap and large volumes of coal from the proposed mine from the start of 2015/2016 would cost taxpayers $1.5 billion.
In a bid to "minimise losses" it opted to search for alternative sources of coal to meet the obligation within deadline, as it moved to sell the state's generators, and sell or lease the Cobbora mine.
Treasurer Baird came to Dubbo yesterday with advice that the next few months would be "critical" as the government negotiated with counter parties, and "suppliers across the Hunter".
“It’s not the mine, it’s the contracts that sit above it and that’s what we need to work through,” he said.
The Treasurer expects the launch of the mine to be delayed but has not ruled out pushing ahead with it if the government cannot meet the contractual obligation deadline any other way.
He insisted yesterday that the mine would play a part in “future coal supply and energy security in the state”.
Once the contractual problems were dealt with, “the mine will be cleared to operate as it should”, the Treasurer said.
Yesterday’s master of ceremonies, ORIN (Orana Region Industry Network) working party chairman Kevin Saul, remained concerned for businesses after the forum.
“We’re a pretty resilient mob, but we need certainty,” he said.
Dubbo mayor Mathew Dickerson called on the Treasurer to “make the decision as soon as possible” on the timeframe for the development of the mine.
“The unknown is what cruels business growth,” he said.
Cr Dickerson thinks it could be May 2013 before the city and region get a definitive answer.
Mr Baird said the mine’s planning and approvals process “remains on track”.