Supporters of the Upper Hunter community of Wollar will rally in Sydney and Mudgee today against a coal mine expansion that threatens to wipe out the village.
The proposal to extend the Wilpinjong coal mine is being reviewed by the NSW Planning Assessment Commission, which will hold a “public hearing” about the project in Mudgee today. Wollar residents and their supporters will boycott the public hearing and hold protest rallies instead, saying the process is stacked against them and it takes away the community’s legal rights.
“This PAC meeting is designed to achieve just one thing: the removal of our legal right to challenge this coal mine,” explained Bev Smiles, resident of Wollar. “It is a meaningless fake consultation that we fear will rubber stamp the mine expansion that would kill off the village of Wollar forever."
“Why would we participate in a process that treats us this way? How can we sit quietly by while our legal rights are stripped away, when our entire community is at stake? We don't want to take part in a box-checking exercise. We want to stop the mine expansion, for the survival of our community,” said Ms Smiles.
“My community has already suffered so much since the mine opened ten years ago. The mining company and the Planning department told us we would not be impacted, but they lied. The dust and the noise have driven many people away, but our community can bounce back if we're given a chance. What's really hard to swallow is that our own state government has abandoned us, and is working with the mining company to finish off Wollar for ever.”
The NSW Department of Planning approved the original Wilpinjong coal mine in 2006, and now admits that the once thriving community of Wollar has been decimated by the mine.
In its recent assessment of the Wilpinjong Extension Project, the department argues that Wollar is no longer worth saving, and recommends approving the expansion of the mine to within 1.5km of the village, acknowledging that this will spell the end of Wollar.
“The Department of Planning has sold out another NSW community to the mining lobby,” said Steve Phillips, Hunter regional coordinator for the Lock The Gate Alliance.
“The way the community of Wollar is being treated is disgusting. The NSW Government needs to act now to bring balance and fairness to coal mine approvals in this state. People in mining affected communities are frankly sick of being told they must suffer the impacts of mining with no recourse to justice. We have few options but to protest.”
“The Baird government must act to end the mining conflict that is destroying the social fabric of this region. They’ve got to make the mines keep clear of villages and keep their noise and dust pollution to within the limits of national and state standards. And they have got to stop stripping the public of our legal rights to appeal bad mine approvals in court. It’s just basic fairness.”
- Under NSW law, major developments including coal mines are often subject to a review by the NSW Planning and Assessment Commission (PAC) before a decision is made to approve them. If directed to by the Planning Minister, the PAC must hold a “public hearing” into the project.
- PAC public hearings have none of the processes or powers of a court, but the holding of a public hearings extinguishes third party merits appeal rights for the project. This means that if and when the development application is approved, members of the public will have no right to challenge the merits of the approval in court.
- In 2012, the Independent Commission Against Corruption recommended the expansion of merits appeal rights to a range of categories of development as anti-corruption safeguard, but the NSW Government has denied this right to multiple communities affected by major coal mine developments in the years since, including Maules Creek, Bulga, Breeza on the Liverpool Plains and now Wollar.
- Community groups wrote to Planning Minister Rob Stokes in September urging him not to extinguish merits appeal rights for the Wilpinjong extension project. He did it anyway. That correspondence is available here.