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Issue #1536      22 February 2012

Culture & Life

Toying with a fancy

Poor Barry O’Farrell! His years in the NSW Opposition don’t seem to have taught him anything. Now that he is in government, he is behaving in exactly the same way as the Labor party politicians he defeated.

Barry campaigned with vigour on the NSW Central Coast where I live, no doubt made aware by his staff that Labor’s kowtowing to the coalmining companies had alienated support from Labor almost everywhere on the Coast.

Driving through much of the lower Hunter region for example is like taking a vacation on the moon: a devastated landscape of discarded topsoil and overburden, for kilometre after kilometre. It is so unnatural and inimical to human life that environmentalists take visitors up to selected high points so they can look down on the devastation for themselves. No arguments are required: the sight alone is enough of a shock.

Activists have a surfeit of choice for issues to campaign around. There is the Newcastle coal loader (recipient of large amounts of public money), a key component in making Newcastle the world’s largest coal exporting port. Not a claim one should actually want to be proud of, considering the serious pollution that is an inevitable concomitant of such operations.

There is the ever-present coal dust across the Hunter Valley that covers everything from washing to vineyards. Big billboards erected by despairing vineyard owners proclaim: “If we could eat or drink coal we’d be laughing!”

The vast increases in the number of coal trains planned under Labor are set to continue under O’Farrell and the Liberals. And why not? The Libs are after all the party of big business (and coal in NSW is definitely big business). The ALP might have tried to usurp the Libs’ position in this regard in recent years, but O’Farrell knows that it rightly belongs to the Libs.

There is the threat to the Coast’s water supply from long-wall coal mining under the main water catchment areas of the Central Coast. Even Labor had to recognise the validity of that particular threat, although they tried very hard to fob it off, setting up a bogus “enquiry” that sought no technical information from anyone except the mining companies. When they did not produce adequate information, the enquiry shrugged and said, well, it’ll be all right anyway.

The enquiry panel was handpicked by devious Labor party heavyweight Frank Sartor and chaired (a master stroke, this) by former Liberal leader Kerri Chikarovski. To no one’s surprise, the “enquiry” concluded that coal mining under the Coast’s main water catchment valleys posed no threat to any one or anything. Curiously, no one gave it any credibility whatsoever.

But while campaigning for the NSW elections, Barry O’Farrell shamelessly courted the disgruntled voters of the Central Coast, attending ant-mining rallies, posing for photographs in the “Water Not Coal” tee-shirts of the main anti-coal mining group, the Australian Coal Alliance, and making promises.

At a rally held in Dooralong’s Woodbury Park, Barry gave an absolute commitment that under a Liberal government longwall coal mining would not be allowed in the Wyong water catchment valleys. “We will ensure mining cannot occur here … no ifs, no buts … a guarantee!”

This earned the Libs lots of favourable comment in the region, and pushed the desperate Labor government shortly before the election to actually reject the proposal to develop the longwall mine, known as Wallarah 2. But to no avail: the Libs took the seat comfortably.

Once in office, however, it has been a different story. The owners of Wallarah 2, “Wyong Areas Coal Joint Venture”, are in the process of submitting a new application for the mine to proceed. And where is “no ifs, no buts” O’Farrell? Conspicuous by his silence.

This is not surprising to those of us who were aware of O’Farrell’s class allegiances from the off, but has come as a grave disappointment to some of those who actually believed his promises, who took him at his word (never a wise thing to do with bourgeois politicians!).

The latest issue of our local community Newsletter, The Rural Grapevine, contains a plaintive letter from a local urging O’Farrell to “Honour your promise Barry”. We can only imagine the communications Barry O’Farrell will have been getting from vested interests with big budgets urging him in all manner of sophisticated ways to do the right thing by the big end of town.

The coal industry (in which we must include the Coal Seam Gas industry) is a huge financial bloc, commanding substantial advertising funds as well as patronage and election funding. Bourgeois politicians will not lightly gainsay such a powerful lobby.

The proposed Wallarah 2 mine would produce coal for Kores, part of the South Korean power industry. Our coal would be burned overseas, but the greenhouse gasses produced would affect us all.

Meanwhile, the fight goes on. Alan Hayes of the Australian Coal Alliance, who became an overt supporter of O’Farrell and the Libs after Barry’s “no ifs, no buts” promise, now says of the new proposal: “Nothing has changed! Wallarah 2 are rolling out the same mishmash with the hope that it will fly.

“There is no way the miners [mining companies] can guarantee the security of the water supply.”

He points out that the new $120 million water transfer pipeline built to take water to the Mangrove Dam for drought mitigation storage draws its water from the Wyong water catchment valleys where the proposed mine would be situated!

The Rural Grapevine quotes “another Coast resident” saying: “Coal mining is detrimental to our health, air quality, quiet lifestyle, let alone the impact it will have on our sensitive environment. Keep out, Kores, go back to Korea, we don’t want you here!”

The same probably now applies to Barry O’Farrell. And if it doesn’t, it will soon if he continues his present policies. Of course, he could always keep his promise. (Peals of laughter offstage.)

I know, I know, I did not mean it to be taken as a serious suggestion. I was just toying with a fancy.  

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