Day 278

One of the common ideas about rural and regional perceptions of coal and gas issues is that while farmers tend to defend their land, townspeople don’t care because they don’t have to deal with the impacts. That idea was put to bed last Monday at the Crossing Theatre in Narrabri that brought around 150 people to a standing-room-only forum on property rights and mining.

The meeting, called by Narrabri councillor Bevan O’Regan, heard from barrister Peter King, originally from Bingara, talk about the existing rights of landowners and the need for a complete re-write of the Mining Act, which is based on laws from the gold-rush era where impacts of mining were lower and there was less freehold land.

The question on everybody’s lips was why farmers don’t have the right to say no to large coal and coal-seam gas projects on their land. The answer was that they already do – Clause 23, Section 1 of the Mining Act says that mining leases cannot be granted over agricultural land without the consent of the landowner. The reason that this clause has been little help to landowners is because of a loophole that says that the landowner doesn’t need to be notified that a mining lease has been applied for over their property (except buried in the pages of the newspaper) and if they don’t object within 28 days, they can’t object later on. Not surprisingly, the result is a mixture of shock and betrayal from people who expect that governments are looking after their interests. (As far as we know, the only time a landowner was not caught off guard and managed to object was when Moolarben Coal objected to Ulan’s claim for a mining lease over the first company’s “agricultural land” – ironic but true).

The meeting resolved to run a political campaign and nominated a steering committee to take up the fight and organise a bigger meeting in Narrabri next month. A number of the steering committee members are Maules Creek residents.

Boggabri Coal has been exposed as the only coal mine in the Hunter and Liverpool Plains with 457 visa workers on their books, despite laying off 106 people several weeks ago. 457 visas were introduced so that temporary foreign workers could be brought in if no local workers are available. The visas have generated outrage because they allow mining companies to replace award or permanent contract workers with temporary workers and undermine conditions of people who work long hours in dangerous jobs. The CFMEU has expressed outrage at Boggabri’s use of 457 workers. Despite the company claiming that no local workers could have done the job, the union said that the company was lying, and that there were dozens of mechanical fitters including among those laid off who could have done the job.

Mining companies promise jobs and growth to quiet concerns about environmental destruction, water depletion and damage to health, but now that the company has approval to expand it doesn’t need community support anymore and is happy to sack workers and undermine their conditions.

The more people out there on the line, the more forest we can protect – please come out and stand up for public lands!