By Phil Laird
NSW Minerals Council head Stephen Galilee (The Australian, April 14, page 21) is right in calling for economic vandals to be jailed. The heads of some of the coal mining companies he represents could do with some time to reflect on the economic and environmental vandalism their careless practices are doing.
It is hard to image a more blatant case of economic vandalism than that of Morwell in Victoria where failed rehabilitation and poor management contributed to a fire burning out of control in a coalmine for weeks, spewing toxic smoke over the adjoining town. People were forced to flee their homes due to the health risks. The economic damage of such an incident is incalculable.
Whitehaven Coal, the company behind the Maules Creek mine in NSW, has been repeatedly fined by the Environmental Protection Authority for discharging polluted water into local creeks. The fines have been little more than a slap on the wrist. This is the area my family has farmed for six generations.
And then we have the uranium contamination of an aquifer in the NSW Pilliga by coal-seam gas miner Santos, which earned the company a paltry $1500 fine.
But Mr Galilee would rather punish the farmers, knitting grandmas and other concerned citizens who blockade mine machinery in a desperate bid to protect the health of their children and prevent any further damage to the lifeblood of the nation, its water resources.
Mr Galilee slams individual members of Lock the Gate as "professional activists", forgetting that he himself is a "professional activist" paid handsomely to protect the interests of the mining lobby at times against the national interest. And by this I mean the long-term food security of our nation and the protection of water, the one resource we cannot live without.
Mr Galilee criticises Lock the Gate’s Georgina Woods and Carmel Flint for being spokespeople for "various organisations". Yet he himself is a spokesman for the NSW Minerals Council, a highly politicised lobby group that represents the narrow interests of coalminers.
His background is far more interesting than those he purports to criticise. Mr Galilee was a long-time staffer and adviser to various Liberal government ministers, both state and federal.
In November 2010, an ICAC report into the corruption risks involved in lobbying in NSW recommended that former staff of ministers and parliamentary secretaries be banned for a year from lobbying activities related to any matter they had had official dealings with in the past year.
The recommendation, which was in line with the Australian government code of conduct, was not adopted and, in December 2011, Mr Galilee left his position as the chief of staff to NSW Treasurer Mike Baird to become the chief executive of the NSW Minerals Council.
More recently, we read that the NSW Minerals Council has added yet another former government adviser to its ranks. The former chief of staff of former state resources minister Chris Hartcher, Andrew Humpherson, began consulting for the council just months after his former boss resigned from cabinet following a raid by officers from ICAC on his office in December last year.
Perhaps Mr Galilee should look more closely at his own council before attacking those who seek to protect the environment and to keep our government open and accountable.
Mr Galilee has also failed to do his homework. He claims when attempting to demonise farmers who have been blockading gas miner Metgasco in the Northern Rivers of NSW that the protesters “blockaded a farmer and his family, including two young children, in their home”. Mr Galilee has simply made this “fact” up. The farmer and his family do not live on the blockaded property. They live 30km away in another valley. When the farmer has attended to his cows on the property blockaders have opened the gate for him.
Lock the Gate is made up of many different groups and individuals who share a common goal of protecting this nation’s land and water from invasive and inappropriate mining. The past few weeks have seen farmers, grandmothers and even a 92-year-old war veteran choose arrest to defend the nation’s land, water, health and ultimately its future from inappropriate coal and gas mining. It is people like this that Mr Galilee claims are “locusts”.
If, as he says, “illegal activity should not be tolerated” then he should turn his attention to the illegal activity of the miners he represents. In the words of Mr Galilee: “Existing laws must be enforced, and magistrates need to do more than issue token fines and stern words. Where laws are inadequate they need to be strengthened.” Indeed!
Phil Laird is a farmer from northwest NSW and the National Coordinator for the Lock the Gate Alliance.