The buzz of celebration among the crowd out here at camp stands in marked contrast to the frowns and bellyaches that must fill the board-rooms of Australia’s coal companies… we have plenty to be happy about!
Tuesday marked our six-month anniversary of our outpost of dissent nestled in a thriving Box-Gum Woodland forest at the edge of the Liverpool Plains. The same day we heard news that 84-year-old birdwatcher Russ Watts had his charge dropped without explanation after he sat on the haul road taking coal out of the Boggabri Coal Mine for six hours last September. And today at mid-day, frustrated coal train drivers in the Hunter began a 48-hour strike as Pacific National refuses to negotiate in good faith and keeps coming back with lower wage offers. So much for the industry’s commitment to jobs – BHP Billiton have also announced that twenty apprentices will not be getting permanent contracts at the end of their two-year apprenticeships at the Mount Arthur open-cut near Muswellbrook. China also announced this week that it would be capping coal use as the world shifts to sustainable energy.
Whitehaven and Idemitsu have finally been exposed for misleading the state government’s Planning and Assessment Commission by trying to pretend that degraded agricultural land in their “offsets” is actually critically endangered Whitebox Gum Woodlands. Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke, who was expected to make a decision on the Maules Creek Coal Mine yesterday, announced that he would be delaying his decision until the end of April while he assesses the cumulative impacts of the Maules Creek Coal Mine and Idemitsu’s Boggabri Coal Mine on matters of national environmental significance. It shouldn’t be hard to do, since the damage to critically endangered communities and nationally threatened species would be permanent if the mine and mine expansions proceed, and the potential “offset” land does not exist.
Burke’s announcement was quickly followed by howls of protest from the NSW government, who accused him of “playing politics”. This is the same state government that promised to protect Tier 1 biodiversity areas and productive farmlands like Leard Forest and Maules Creek in order to get elected, and then caved into the coal industry as soon as they got in. The day is coming soon when we will realise that the community is more powerful than the coal industry.
This morning Front Line Action on Coal hung a huge “The Burke $top$ Here” banner at the point where the Tarrawonga coal mine meets our forest. It’s a jarring and confronting sight, as every day more forest is being knocked down by bulldozers at the neighbouring Boggabri Coal Mine, ready for blasting and stripping. This is what is at stake. Our message was clear – if Tony Burke is serious about assessing cumulative impacts, he must call in the rest of the Boggabri expansion for federal assessment. Up to this point, Burke has resisted assessing most of the high-value forest which would be affected by Idemitsu’s expansion. There is no reason why it shouldn’t be assessed, because once it’s gone, we can never get it back.
Earlier this week we also got a visit from two North American activists who have been campaigning against mountain-top removal coal mining in Appalachia and open-cut cyanide-leach gold mining. Before a night-time rapping session, they presented the Beehive Collective‘s “True Cost of Coal” graphic, which tells the story of coal in Appalachia from pre-settler Cherokee communities to the movement taking the US beyond coal.
One more piece of good news: our friends at SumofUs have submitted a petition to ANZ bank with 13,682 of your signatures calling on the bank to divest from the Maules Creek Coal Mine – for real this time!
The next three months are crucial, and we want you to join the throng! Come out to camp, take action wherever you are, and build the movement. Coal is over, and people power is in.