Day 150

Happy new year and happy anniversary! One hundred and fifty days ago, Front Line Action on Coal was born – a camp, a community and a line of resistance. Each week of the camp has had a different crew and most of us here are new to the camp. To all our friends who have visited over the life of the camp – this celebration is yours as well! It’s time to come together to defend our forest.

The past month brought us a significant coup over Whitehaven Coal, who want to build the Maules Creek mine over 1360ha of Leard Forest plus a large chunk of farmland at Maules Creek (the community, not the mine). They also own the Tarrawonga Coal Mine, our closest neighbour, who are seeking permission to expand.

Those of you who have been following FLAC through the media would know about the Coxs Creek bridge derailment. One week after the rail company ARTC lifted the speed limits through Boggabri, a hot day and a fast and heavy coal train coming from Whitehaven’s Narrabri mine destroyed the bridge, cutting the main access to Moree for Countrylink, farm produce and coal. The estimated cost to farmers from losing rail access was $150 million, and all of the Countrylink passengers were pushed onto buses. Who wanted the trains to go faster? We don’t know. But of course Whitehaven were not prepared to chip in to the costs of fixing the bridge or compensating farmers for losses.

The company had a bigger concern – how to get its coal out. Their development conditions say they can’t transport coal by road, so they applied for permission to truck coal, an application which is still being processed. If approved, the coal trucks would have increased highway traffic by over 56% and gone right past Boggabri school.

The company, chaired by Mark Vaile, knew the application would take a while and they still weren’t allowed to use trucks, so they came up with an idea – a trucking “trial” where they would put trucks on the road to help the Department of Planning make their decision. This trial, of course, had nothing to do with actually getting coal out, although it did make hundreds of thousands of dollars per day. Obviously this trial was completely illegal. It also almost caused a collision when a coal truck overtook another coal truck across double white lines around a bend into an oncoming car.

After two days, FLAC wrote to Planning pointing out the breach and sent a ‘cease and desist’ letter to Whitehaven and the trucks ground to a halt. Whitehaven told the media that they decided to stop trucking due to ‘safety concerns’. After a correction from FLAC, the Department of Planning confirmed the next day that no, the trial was illegal, but no, there would be no penalty because the Department “understood” why Whitehaven broke the law. Last year, Whitehaven illegally discharged pit water into the Namoi River and destroyed a local farmer’s crop, a discretion which earned them a measly $3000 fine. Perhaps they decided this time that they could make more money by breaking the law, and as it turns out, they were right! But they didn’t count on us…

Several days later, FLAC, community and supporters poured into the Boggabri golf club  where the Planning Assessment Commission were deciding whether to approve the Tarrawonga mine expansion, which would create more climate change than all of Haiti (or any of 43 other countries). Of all the speakers, only a real estate agent, an earthmover and a spokesperson for Orica, the explosives company (some of the minority of the community who directly benefit from the mine) spoke in favour, and all other speakers were opposed or had strong reservations. The chairperson of the commission, Gabrielle Kibble, is John Kerr’s daughter and has been involved in approving dozens of destructive coal and gas projects. We would maintain the rage, but can’t sack her as she is unelected. The commission’s members are hand-picked by Brad Hazzard, the member for the coal industry and Minister for Planning.

So we have an unelected committee making decisions that are destroying Leard Forest, Maules Creek, our health and our climate. The previous decisions on the Maules Creek and Boggabri mines can’t be taken to court because of a contorted double-PAC process developed by the NSW Government. Democracy in action!

Those who make democracy impossible make civil disobedience inevitable. In the past couple of weeks, hundreds of hectares of forest have been marked up for bulldozing. Each mature gum (mostly the critically-endangered Yellow-Box) has been marked with an “H” for habitat. The process involves checking what animals are there, knocking down the undergrowth to scare the critters away before the bulldozers move in.

It’s time to stand and protect our forest. Our message to Tony Burke: No more coal mines in forests! Our message to the community: your children and grandchildren need you to take a stand! Our message to ANZ customers: Stop investing in destroying our forests and farmlands for short-term greed.

Leard Forest needs you here. No amount of Facebook likes or petition signatures will stop the bulldozers in the next couple of weeks – only we can do it together!