May 10, 2024

DAN COX, PRESENTER: It's no secret that Newcastle and Lake Macquarie have historic mine works underground, but it can affect what we do above ground. And in Lake Macquarie, a mines fund is starting up to help developers cover some of those costs of building on top of mine voids and it's called grouting.

JENNY MARCHANT, PRESENTER: It's aiming to help not just developers in Lake Macquarie, but the bigger economic picture, unlocking land for housing and more. So, to find out how it works, Pat Conroy is here, the federal member for Shortland. Good morning.

PAT CONROY, MEMBER FOR SHORTLAND: Good morning, Dan and Jenny.

MARCHANT: How will this fund work?

CONROY. So this will effectively work as an insurance scheme, which means that developers, when they're developing in our area, face unknown costs of whether they've got mine subsidence and how much it will cost to fill those mine voids if they're building buildings above three stories. So this fund will be an insurance scheme where they know that the maximum amount they will be spending on grouting will be ‘x’. That means they can take projects to the bank and borrow money and build projects, because at the moment we're at a competitive disadvantage against regions that don't have mine subsidence issues. So this funding that I'm providing with the Federal Government will drive $450 million worth of development in Charlestown alone and generate 2,500 jobs according to the Dantia Economic Development Organisation. So it's all about jobs and getting more affordable housing into our area.

COX: This is $2 million at this stage. That's not going to solve the problem, that's just a scoping study on where the problems lie. How much money can the Government afford to spend on this? Is it a bottomless bucket?

CONROY: No, no. We've allocated $10 million at the last election. That was one of my election commitments out of the Lake Macquarie economic development strategy that I talk. So $2 million to do the study, to map the full mine subsidence issue, particularly across the the key growth areas for Lake Macquarie, places like Charlestown, Cardiff, Glendale, Morrisett and West Wallsend, and then there'll be at least $8 million and whatever's remaining from the scoping study as the insurance scheme. And the key thing for most developers is they won't actually need to access this funding. It just gives them the certainty so they can take projects to the bank. So, I'm very confident we'll see a lot of affordable housing built, a lot of jobs generated through just having this scheme in existence.

MARCHANT: $8 million doesn't sound like very much when it comes to filling in historic mine workings, and these are big and expensive developments. Are you saying you don't think that you'll actually have to pay very much out of this fund? It's more about giving the banks an assurance that the person they're about to lend to is insured in a way.

CONROY: That’s right. It gives them certainty, they know if they're lending to Joe Bloggs developer, that person has fully accounted for the cost of any potential grouting they need, which they often won't discover until the project’s well advanced -

MARCHANT: What's the threshold then where developers would say ‘we're at the limit, we now need to access the fund’?

CONROY: That's part of the scoping study process. To give you an example in how it worked in Newcastle, it was capped at 200 - in one area it was capped at $200 per square metre in one area. So, if it was a thousand square metre site, a developer had to spend $200,000 on grouting, and above that the insurance would kick in. So, this is just a way - it's not about giving a free ride to developers, it's about giving them certainty so they can go to the bank and get these projects kick started, and so that Lake Macquarie has a level playing field against regions in the state and the country that don't deal with this issue.

COX: Mr Conroy, we've had a few texts on this idea that the mining companies should be responsible, should they not, for the cost of rehabilitating the land they've taken from. Why is it taxpayers’ responsibility? Why is it the Federal Government’s responsibility?

CONROY: Well, I totally understand why people feel that way, but I'll give you an example. Charlestown - the mines in Charlestown were some of the earliest in Australia. They were developed in the 1820s, 1830s, and 1840s. The mining companies that did that mining no longer exist. So there is no one to say ‘you need to remediate’. With current mine development, mining companies have obligations to remediate the land, but we're talking about historical mine developed mining where the companies don't exist. We don't even know where the mines ran through individual suburbs because it was occurring nearly 200 years ago. So this is all about jobs and affordable housing and being pragmatic about how we deliver that.

MARCHANT: We've had a text from somebody who seems upset that the Newcastle grouting fund is winding up, that was a State Government budget allocation and that this is happening in Lake Macquarie and says ‘why not in both cities’? Would the Federal Government support continuation of mine grouting in Newcastle?

CONROY: Well this was an election commitment I took to the 2022 election and the commitment was that we would extend the Newcastle fund into Lake Macquarie. Subsequent to that, obviously the State Government made a decision. It's up to them about what they do about that. I can only focus on what I'm doing, which is representing Lake Macquarie and the northern Central Coast and fighting for our fair share of development so that we get the jobs and affordable housing that Lake Macquarie deserves.

COX: Minister, thank you for joining us this morning.

CONROY: Thank you. Have a good morning.