Day 232 – Leaps ahead

A month ago things were looking grim for the campaign to protect Maules Creek and Leard Forest from massive coal expansion, with the Maules Creek and Boggabri expansion gaining federal approval as the last hoop they had to jump through before being able to rip into this area. Now things are looking up, with a court case being progressed against the Maules Creek mine that has good prospects and is likely to tie the mine up in the courts for years. The expansion of the Tarrawonga mine seems unlikely to proceed due to market conditions, and unfortunately this comes at a human cost – thirty coal miners, hired with promises of long-term high incomes, have had their jobs axed like hundreds around the country as the coal boom starts to slow. The decline of coal around the world seems inevitable, and it’s important that state and federal governments support transition projects so that ordinary people are not made to pay for the reckless and unsustainable expansion that has driven so many farmers, manufacturers, tourism and education workers out of business.

Here in the forest the campaign is gathering steam. The Leard Forest Listen Up brought a dozen people from Maules Creek, Barraba, and Boggabri as well as fifty other people from further afield, including the Northern Rivers, Sydney and Bathurst. Local farmer Phil Laird spoke passionately about the need to keep up the pressure as the court challenge proceeds, and NSW Senator Lee Rhiannon spoke about the need to support people all up and down the coal chain in campaigning against the proposed fourth coal terminal in Newcastle, where much of this coal is destined. The night was filled with folk music, comedy and even a bit of punk rock, as well as an inspiring march down to the haul road gates of the Boggabri coal mine.

The following Monday a valiant woman stopped output of coal from the Tarrawonga coal mine for 14 hours by remaining in a tree platform attached to the front gates of the mine. Whitehaven, true to form, snuck a few empty trucks through by deviating from their legally approved access route, but a quick call to the Department of Planning and a call back from the Director-General of Planning kicked off yet another investigation into whether Whitehaven broke the law yet again.

The protest called on the federal government to not make the same mistake as with the other two mines by deciding to approve before looking at the impacts, and for election candidates around the country to make their positions known on Lock the Gate’s Call to Country.

Astonishingly, Tony Burke approved the Tarrawonga expansion the very next day, only a few hours before announcing that impacts of coal and gas projects on water would be introduced into federal environment law. Apparently the government didn’t want the impacts of mining on Maules Creek’s water supply to be a reason to knock the mines back – little surprise, since the mines would draw down the surrounding aquifers by more than 5 metres.

Nevertheless, outgoing Whitehaven manager Tony Haggarty spat the dummy at the campaign against the mine, claiming with no evidence that the local community was supportive of the mines. Clearly Haggarty hasn’t set foot in Maules Creek in a while, and his claims were met with an indignant response by Phil Laird.

The Boggabri mine has announced that it will begin its infrastructure projects for expansion within the next few weeks, including a rail spur and transmission lines. Heritage surveys for the rail spur have already begun, and a significant area of Leard Forest has been marked up for the expansion of a top soil dump.

The last several days have brought a welcome gift of rain, with a gentle fog rising off the forest this morning to a relatively clear day. That this little oasis could become the largest coal field in NSW seems incredible, and the more people are involved, the easier it will be to permanently protect this area from insatiable mining companies.

Don’t miss out – come and join the movement!