Day 244 – A Tale of Two Corporations

Whitehaven Coal’s recent behaviour towards their workforce – telling 40 workers that they had to go home without a job with no warning – is probably yet another breach and will probably land them in both the workplace tribunal and the Federal Court. Boggabri Coal will also be sacking workers – about seventy, if rumours are correct – but unlike Whitehaven, the company is laying off workers legally in consultation with the CFMEU as per their enterprise agreement.

It’s starting to get a bit predictable – every time something unexpected happens to the two companies, Whitehaven Coal breaks the law and Boggabri Coal does not.

  • In 2011, both mining companies dumped contaminated pit water into the Namoi River after a flood. Boggabri Coal asked for permission to do this, but Whitehaven just went ahead and did it anyway and copped two measly $1800 fines. A local farmer’s crop was destroyed, and when he complained, he was told by the company that it was just “something you’ll have to get used to.”
  • Last December, a derailment on the Cox’s creek bridge occurred, preventing both Whitehaven and Idemitsu (Boggabri Coal) from getting their coal to port. Both companies asked for permission to transport coal by truck, causing a lot of concern among residents about the traffic and noise impacts of an intensive trucking operation. Whitehaven openly broke the law by putting the trucks on the road before getting permission to do so, calling the operation a “trucking trial”, before FLAC complained to the Department of Planning, who soon told Whitehaven to stop their illegal trucking operation. Boggabri Coal waited and did not break the law. The Department acknowledged in a letter to us that the trucking operation was illegal, but said it was “not in the public interest” to fine Whitehaven, adding that the company “has been warned that further breaches of this nature may attract enforcement action.”
  • Boggabri Coal has been blockaded at their haul road gates during peaceful protests. They can’t take the trucks up Leard Forest Road because it would be a breach of their development consent and illegal. Last month, Whitehaven’s Tarrawonga mine was also blockaded. It is also illegal for them to use public roads like the Goonbri road to take coal trucks, but they went ahead and did it anyway. This time the Director of the Department of Planning, David Kitto, called us in relation to the breach and said he would be taking the matter seriously. However, he then wrote back and said that the trucks were diverted at the request of the police (which seems odd and irrelevant – the police can’t overrule the law) and added “I can assure you that any further breach of the project approval by Whitehaven Coal would be fully investigated by the Department, and enforcement action be taken if it is warranted.”
  • Whitehaven lied to both the Department of Planning and the federal environment department (SEWPAC) about the quality of their offsets, misdescribing some vegetation types as other vegetation types and calling degraded wheat paddocks “White Box Gum Woodland”. It took an investigation by local residents and North West Ecological Services to report the breach, and the federal environment department is investigating – this would be a crime under federal environmental law. We haven’t found any major issues with Boggabri’s offsets (not that any amount of offsets justifies destroying critically endangered forest).
  • When Whitehaven’s Maules Creek Mine was first proposed (at that time by Aston Resources, which has since become part of Whitehaven), owner Nathan Tinkler failed to disclose a $50 000 donation to the NSW National Party. This is a very serious breach of a law intended to prevent corruption. Boggabri Coal did not fail to report any disclosable political donations.
  • Whitehaven Coal negotiated access agreements to build a private haul road. As part of the negotiations, they agreed to minimise their impacts by only allowing their coal trucks from Tarrawonga on the road. Soon their contractors, Boggabri’s contractors and members of the general public were using the road as Whitehaven had not maintained their gates and the fed up landowners blocked the road. Whitehaven then injuncted the landowners from blocking the road. Boggabri Coal does not allow other vehicles on their haul road, which also goes through private farmlands. It causes a nuisance – but it’s legal.
  • According to four separate reports we have heard, Whitehaven Coal let off a blast at the wrong time at their Tarrawonga mine which wafted over into Boggabri coal mine, affecting workers in scissor lifts who could not leave in time – around 18 workers were sent to hospital for observation. We are not aware of any enforcement action about this.
  • Finally, Whitehaven have failed to consult the union about lay-offs as required in their enterprise agreement, where Boggabri has been consulting.

Nobody should be allowed to mine in a state forest, push farmers off their land or create massive open-pit coal mines at this point in history that would depressurise the water table and create huge amounts of greenhouse gases. Governments continue to fail to apply appropriate regulation to mining companies.

But this track record from Whitehaven Coal, a recidivist and serial offender, shows that it has complete contempt for even the laws that exist to protect people, the environment and their workers. They just don’t care about anything except profit.

When we peacefully protest against these injustices, we expect to be charged if we calmly but determinedly break a law to highlight something wrong. The question is – why shouldn’t the same standards apply to Whitehaven Coal? The laws that apply to them are much more serious and breaking them have much higher impacts on people, the environment and their workers. Whitehaven should not be allowed to behave like pirates all through the Gunnedah Basin and the Liverpool Plains.