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Issue #1676      March 11, 2015

Lock the Gate’s election agenda

The Lock the Gate Alliance has released its agenda for the upcoming NSW election, asking political parties to commit to sweeping reforms of mining and planning law to restore balance.

An editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald describes the massive coal expansion proposed in the state’s Strategic Assessment and community concern about the impacts of mining as “just as dangerous” for Mike Baird as the privatisation of poles and wires.

“Members of the Alliance were dismayed that the NSW Coalition government walked away from its 2011 election promises regarding mining and coal seam gas after it came to power,” said Phil Laird, National Coordinator for Lock the Gate.

“A suite of Liberal-National Coalition promises that encompassed no go zones, ring fences and protections for groundwater and community health were trashed a few months into government.

“Since then communities have had to fight a rearguard action to protect themselves and their environment.

“This election the Alliance is seeking real commitments from the political parties to rein in the extractive industries, providing certainty to regional communities and committing to the protection of land and water,” he said.

In order to help its members understand the commitments of the parties the Alliance is seeking responses from party leaders to a series of questions, including querying the parties’ positions on:

  • Stamping out corruption-prone approval processes,
  • Creating mining exclusion areas for farmland and water resources,
  • Introducing health assessment and basic regulations to protect people from air pollution,
  • Restoration of community merits appeal rights to challenge mine approvals in court,
  • Respecting the will of communities and individuals who choose to say “no” to mining,
  • Rectifying the failures of the NSW Gas Plan.

A full list of the detailed questions can be found here: www.lockthegate.org.au/nswvotes

Phil Laird said, “Last weekend, it was revealed that the NSW government has been meeting secretly with 11 coal companies to open up 45,000 hectares of new coal mining areas in the Hunter, suggesting that little has been learnt from the ICAC coal corruption scandals.

“Meanwhile, the NSW Gas Plan is in tatters after it was effectively rejected by a cross-party NSW Parliamentary Inquiry. These are issues that matter to country New South Wales, and increasingly people in the city are aware and focussed on the damage that mining is doing to our water and our foodbowls.

“We’re asking the parties to respond to our questions by 13 March, so the community can have a clear understanding of their commitments when it comes to mining.”

Meanwhile, following today’s news that the Planning and Assessment Commission has described the expansion of the Warkworth mine in the Hunter Valley as “capable of being approved,” despite two court decisions rejecting an almost identical application, local community groups which have fought the project over five years have issued “The Bulga Declaration,” promising to use all peaceful means to prevent the mine extension going ahead in future.

The Bulga Declaration, set out in full below, is signed by a broad cross section of groups affected by the mine including representatives of Bulga residents, the local Aboriginal community, local winemakers, tourism operators and environment groups. These groups are today inviting members of the public to sign onto the declaration, which can be found at www.lockthegate.org.au/the_bulga_declaration.

The Planning and Assessment Commission report admits that changes in State Government policy since 2013 which have favoured the coal mining industry have been central to its conclusion that the mining project is “capable of being approved” now.

John Krey, spokesperson for the Bulga Milbrodale Progress Association said, “Giving the green light to this project today is confirmation that the legal and regulatory system that governs mining is broken and that NSW residents cannot count on it to serve the public interest or protect our precious land, water and heritage.

“With every other avenue to protect our homes and peaceful valley from this massive open cut coal mine exhausted, we are left with no choice but to draw a line in the sand.

“We have fought this project in court, and won twice, but despite this the NSW government changed the rules to push it through, quashed our rights to appeal in court, and worked behind closed doors with mining giant Rio Tinto to ensure its proceeds.

“Our community never planned to take peaceful direct action, but we never expected the NSW government to work with Rio Tinto to pervert a just outcome either.”

Kevin Taggart, an elder of the local Wonnarua Traditional Custodians, said, “We know that Rio Tinto and the NSW government have no hesitation in approving a mine expansion that will destroy our country and our culture.

“We will continue to oppose this project until it is dead in the water. Rio Tinto should be stopped from destroying our precious land and decimating our traditional culture, our homes and our sacred sites,” Mr Taggart said.

Ian Napier, Broke Fordwich Wine & Tourism Association spokesperson said, “Why sacrifice our fertile wine and local tourism industries for the profits of a multi-national mining company which is blind to the resulting impacts on our beautiful valley?.”

Steve Phillips, Hunter Valley coordinator for the Lock The Gate Alliance said, “The Baird Government has turned its back on an iconic Hunter Valley community and sided with one of the biggest mining companies in the world. Instead of battling for Bulga, the government is battling for Rio Tinto, working hand in glove with the company to force this mine on an unwilling community. The PAC report makes clear that it is state government policy changes in the last two years that have made this project approvable. When a government changes the rules to suit a multi-national mining company and ruin a community, then communities have little choice but to issue a declaration of this kind.”

The Bulga Declaration

We, the undersigned, make this promise: we will not allow the Warkworth mine to destroy Saddle Ridge and the Warkworth Sands, nor the village of Bulga.

Saddle Ridge and the Warkworth Sands harbour woodlands and wildlife that are vanishing from the Hunter Valley due to open cut coal mining. The area is an ancient pathway and place of harmony, protection, and direction for Wonnarua people. It shields the village of Bulga from noise and dust rising from the super pits of Rio Tinto’s Mount Thorley-Warkworth mine. For the Wonnarua, the people of Bulga, and the wildlife, Saddle Ridge and the Warkworth Sands are home; protecting and guiding them. Such things cannot be compensated for. They cannot be sold, or replaced.

The NSW government may have signed the death warrant for Warkworth Sands and the village of Bulga, but the people have not. The government and Rio Tinto are colluding against us, but we are united and we will not be subdued.

The highest courts in New South Wales have rejected the Warkworth mine expansion for the same reasons we reject it. By siding with Rio Tinto to subvert the people’s victory in court, the government has crossed a line. Now we are the ones that will uphold fairness, protect the ridge and restore faith in organised community.

We stand with the village of Bulga and the Wonnarua Traditional Custodians. We pledge to them that we will use all peaceful means to help them protect community and culture from the Warkworth coal mine.

Signed by

Bulga Milbrodale Progress Association;
Kevin Taggart – Wonnarua traditional custodian
Broke Fordwich –Wine & Tourism Association
Hunter Valley Protection Alliance
Our Land Our Water Our Future
Lock the Gate.

Background

Both the Land and Environment Court, and the NSW Supreme Court (Court of Appeal), have rejected Rio Tinto’s plans.

Yet in mid 2014 Rio Tinto resubmitted for approval an almost identical project to that already rejected by the courts.

Earlier, the NSW government joined Rio Tinto in its appeal and changed mining regulations to sidestep the Land & Environment Court’s judgment. 

As a result, the economic significance of a coal resource is now the principal consideration for mining development approvals, above impacts on water, biodiversity, amenity and other land uses.

If the expansion goes ahead it will create severe noise and dust impacts for residents of the small town, destroy a critically endangered woodland and impact on 110 registered Aboriginal cultural sites.

The PAC’s approval of the mine extension means the Bulga community will no longer have appeal rights to the Land and Environment Court on the merits of the decision – a right ICAC recommends to prevent corruption.

Next article – IWD: Standing side by side with our sisters

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