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Issue #1602      July 17, 2013

Culture & Life

When profits, not people, rule

When Labor was in power in NSW, the Liberal Party campaigned vigorously against the rampant corruption clearly evident within the ranks of the ALP government. Property developers, big coal, casino operators – they all seemed to have a very cosy relationship with Labor in office.

Robin Askin held the top job in NSW when the illegal casinos flourished and everyone knew where they were except the police, who just couldn’t find them anywhere.

Barry O’Farrell, in Opposition, talked tough about ending this corruption. In particular, he told the people of the NSW Central Coast that when he became Premier there would be no more new coal-mines within the Coast’s precious water catchment areas. And the people, desperate and trusting, believed him. And why not? He stood before a public rally and made a solemn promise – “no ifs, no buts, a guarantee” – that if elected his government would not allow coal mining in the water catchment valleys of the Coast.

His instant reneging on those undertakings once elected has dismayed many (if not all) of his supporters in the community. However, it shouldn’t have, should it? After all, Barry is a Lib and one of the most crooked premiers this state ever had was a Lib, named Robin Askin. Remember him?

Askin, later knighted – presumably for services to organised crime – held the top job in NSW when the illegal casinos flourished and everyone knew where they were except the police, who just couldn’t find them anywhere. I knew a chap who was attending one of these lucrative criminal playgrounds one night, when he fancied a sandwich. He went from the gaming room into the kitchen in search of one and found instead that it was full of uniformed police (the same folk who officially did not know of the existence of any casinos). A waiter was running the coppers’ bets to the gaming tables for them.

This was the era when coppers used police cars to transport prostitutes to their beats for the night, and when a copper who was not on the take was an embarrassment to his colleagues, “cramping their style”. Such honest coppers were usually moved around to some of the lucrative postings in the hope that they would see the light and “get with the program”. If they stayed honest they tended to end up invalided out of the NSW Force.

With as notorious a predecessor as Robin Askin for comparison, no one should have been surprised that Barry O’Farrell turned out to be an unmitigated liar who would make deals with anyone in return for their vote in Parliament. The media however were steadfastly denouncing Labor’s crooked record and refusing to remind people of the Libs’ similar record, so Barry was able to sweep into office as the man who was going to “clean up” NSW and in particular put a stop to the ravages of big coal.

Once he was elected, however, Barry was quick to backpedal on his promises. New coal-mines were suddenly back on the agenda. And the people were not happy. But Barry was in the Premier’s chair and apparently couldn’t care less.

Last month, an angry crowd of over 250 residents of the Dooralong and Jilliby Valleys attended a meeting to voice their concerns over subsidence impacts from the proposed new Wallarah 2 underground long-wall coal mine. The environmental impact statement (EIS) prepared by the mine’s proponents admits that 245 homes will be affected by subsidence once the mine goes ahead. And 118 of those will subside by at least one metre and up to 22 metres!

Kate da Costa, Central Coast spokesperson for The Greens, said in a statement that “Wallarah 2 will cause subsidence in the Jilliby Valley and surrounds. This, coupled with mining activities, will cause loss of water to bores, remove up to 740,000 litres of groundwater every day and risks cracking of creek and river beds as has been seen in the Nepean catchment.”

Wallahrah 2 is a joint venture with South Korean resources company Kores. In their own EIS, Kores predicts a loss of groundwater equivalent to 40 in-ground pools every day. The creeks in the mine area flow into the Wyong River, which is now linked by a $125 million pipeline to the Mangrove Mountain dam which is the main drinking water supply for the Central Coast.

Calling for the federal Environment Minister to intervene and prevent the potential permanent damage to the Central Coast’s water supply, Kate da Costa said “we don’t need any new coal mining. We need to take the billions of dollars given in subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, and use it in ways … to help convert Australia to 100% renewables as quickly as possible.

“Our major trading partners, China and India, are both implementing large renewable programs which will quickly reduce their coal and gas requirements. Instead of hitching all our fortunes to exporting dirty energy, Australia, which is blessed with ample sun and space to build wind farms, should follow Scotland’s lead and legislate for the electricity grid to be 100 percent renewable by 2030.”

The Greens’ lead NSW Senate candidate Cate Faehrmann met with residents campaigning against the Wallarah 2 coalmine and commented afterwards: “More and more communities across NSW are drawing a line in the sand when the real costs of mining coal become clear. The long-tern damage to the environment and the climate system, for example, is just not worth some of the supposed short-term gains.

“The majority of the world’s top climate scientists are now quite clear. We cannot continue digging up and burning coal if we are to have any hope of preventing a dangerously warmer world. If we are to stay within the two degrees warming limit that the world has agreed to, four-fifths of the world’s coal and oil reserves need to stay in the ground. …

“Our land and water should not be sacrificed for the profit of overseas coal giants.”

And local campaigner Mike Campbell, of the protest group Australian Coal Alliance, said: “Water, dust emissions and subsidence are the three main concerns for the Central Coast. The local community … is simply not going to stand by and have Wallarah 2 thrust upon us. The consequences would be horrific.”   

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