Traditional owners, wine-makers, Bulga residents, and their supporters will hold a rally in opposition to the proposed Warkworth coal mine expansion in Singleton this morning, coinciding with the opening of the NSW Planning and Assessment Commission's public hearings into the project.
The rally begins at 8am outside the Singleton Heights Diggers Club, and will be followed by a two-day public hearing on Rio Tinto's proposed mine by the Commission.
“For nearly five years, Bulga residents have fought Rio Tinto's plans to bring the Warkworth coal mine through Saddle Ridge and to the edge of our village,” explained John Krey, spokesperson for Bulga Milbrodale Progess Association, who will address the rally and the Commission.
“We have beaten Rio Tinto twice, and we are determined to beat them again. The future of our close community is under threat. We are dismayed by the actions of the Baird state government, which continues to work closely with Rio Tinto to force the mine on our community,” said Krey.
Hunter Valley Wine Industry Tourism Association spokesperson Ian Napier will also address the rally and the Commission. “The wine tourism industry provides thousands of jobs for the Hunter Valley,” he said. “Inappropriate mining developments like Warkworth shouldn’t be allowed to encroach any further on the Bulga wine subregion. The Warkworth proposal is a step too far across the line into our wine and tourism areas.”
Wonnarua traditional custodian and native title claimant Kevin Taggart will also speak to the rally and the Commission. “The Warkworth area is very important to Aboriginal people,” he explained. “As a young person I travelled through this country with my father and uncles, learning to hunt and gather food for the family,” he said. “The country that Rio Tinto wants to destroy contains important cultural artefacts and connections to spiritual places for our people. If our land is destroyed our lives are broken.”
“Our history, our culture, and our stories need to be preserved. They remain meaningless while buried under mining rubble. We have lost too much already, and it has to stop.”
Hunter regional coordinator for the Lock the Gate Alliance, Steve Phillips, said: "The public is accustomed to the favourite treatment the coal industry gets from the NSW government, but it's time for that to stop. In promoting and facilitating Rio Tinto's Warkworth project after two courts rejected it, the NSW Planning Department has lost its last shred of credibility as an objective agency acting in the public interest.
"This is a huge test for the credibility of the Planning Assessment Commission", said Phillips. "Two courts have rejected this mining proposal, and if the Commission has any respect for legal precedent, it must do the same. The rule of law is at stake here - will the Commission give proper weight to the deeply considered decisions by the Land and Environment Court and the Supreme Court, or will they throw the judiciary out the window and do the bidding of the NSW Government and Rio Tinto?"