It’s hard not to notice the broad smiles on Maules Creek farmers’ faces this week as the last two days gave the soil another good soaking. Frogs, lizards and other critters are becoming more noticeable as the creeks fill with life-giving water, a sight we have rarely seen in the six months we have been in the forest.
There might be another reason behind the smiles as the Maules Creek mine and its devastating impacts if it gets approved are now firmly on the national radar and the spin from Whitehaven about offsets, mine impacts and profitability have been exposed. That should focus Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke’s mind as he decides whether to approve the Maules Creek mine and part of Idemitsu’s Boggabri coal mine next Friday.
Unfortunately, despite the valiant efforts of nearby independent MP Tony Windsor, Burke will not be making a decision on impacts of the mine on invaluable water resources, because apparently water is not a “matter of national environmental significance”. He also won’t be making a decision based on the increase in asthma in children, the dislocation of farmers or townspeople with sky-rocketing rents, or the astronomical greenhouse emissions of the mine (which, according to Ian Lowe, would make the Maules Creek mine the 75th largest emitter in the world if it were a country).
Tony Burke has to decide whether the mine will have a significant and irreversible impact on critically endangered ecological communities of Whitebox, Poplar Box, Yellowbox and Pilliga Box, as well as nationally threatened species like the Diamond Firetail, Masked Owl and the Yellow-Bellied Sheath-Tailed Bat. His decision should be easy enough. Since Leard Forest is the largest native forest in the Liverpool Plains, similar land to offset the impacts of the mine does not exist. Whitehaven has promised to buy degraded agricultural land to offset the mine, but under new national criteria, these offsets don’t count. Which is fair enough, since koalas are not going to hang around for two hundred years waiting for the scrub to grow back.
An easy decision perhaps, but he is also under a tremendous amount of pressure from Whitehaven and the NSW Minerals Council, who like to claim that the sky will fall in and we’ll all be sent back to the stone age if every proposed coal mine is not approved regardless of how destructive it may be. But September 14 this year is our opportunity to remind politicians that we choose the government, not the coal industry. So before next Friday, contact Burke directly or through the letters page of your local newspaper to let him know that his decision on the Maules Creek mine will be remembered for seven months.
We’ve been tremendously privileged to have award-winning author Sharyn Munro, author of Rich Land, Wasteland, at camp. The Maules Creek Hall was packed to capacity last night as Sharyn, a resident of the Upper Hunter, recounted her stories of touring communities affected by mining and detailed the destruction of our foodbowls, the toxic effects of blasting and dust on health, and the conservative communities across NSW and Queensland who are successfully using civil disobedience as reason and logic fail to cut through the massive power imbalance between farmers and miners. By standing together as unnatural allies with a proportionate response to the threat to our communities and land-base, we become an unstoppable force.
Four things everybody can do:
1. Publicly contact Tony Burke and remind him to do his job.
2. Close your accounts with ANZ and tell them why – have a look into what your bank or superannuation fund is up to.
3. Come out to camp! Now is the time for action on the ground.
4. Tell everybody about the rally against the proposed fourth coal terminal in Newcastle on March 16. This unites everybody in the Hunter, Gunnedah and the West affected by this dying industry.
We’ll leave you with an inspiring story in the Australian about poor Whitehaven, who have recently had to admit how tight the company is.