The law firm acting for Rio Tinto, Minter Ellison, told the State Government last year that it believed re-lodging an application for the extension of the Warkworth mine in the Hunter Valley after approval for it had been overturned by the Land and Environment Court would be "unlawful."
Despite this advice, Rio Tinto went ahead and lodged a new application for the project in June this year. The new application is for a virtually identical project to the one rejected by the Court.
A public hearing into the project is scheduled to be held on Thursday and Friday this week, in Singleton in the Hunter Valley.
Documents obtained under Government Information Public Access laws now reveal that Rio Tinto’s own lawyers questioned the lawfulness of re-applying for the project in an advice provided to then-Premier, Barry O’Farrell.
Spokesman for the Bulga Milbrodale Progress Association, John Krey, said, "Our community has been dragged through the wringer by Rio Tinto and the State Government who simply cannot accept the umpire’s decision and uphold the Land and Environment Court’s judgement that this project is not in the public interest."
"Now it’s revealed that they are willing to go to any lengths, even to taking action they themselves believe to be unlawful, to expand the Warkworth mine towards Bulga."
Lock the Gate NSW Coordinator Georgina Woods said, "Approval of this project would burn away what little remaining faith people in New South Wales hold in the objective application of planning laws and processes when it comes to coal mining projects. The former Premier got advice saying this new Warkworth project is unlawful.
"We’re calling on the current Premier to step in and stop this farce, restore balance to the planning system and uphold the rule of law against the mining giants.
"There is a vacuum of leadership from the Premier when it comes to coal mining: the coal industry are currently walking all over due process, the public interest, and the village of Bulga, and it’s got to stop."
Read the letter obtained under freedom of information laws from Rio Tinto lawyers to former Premier Barry O'Farrell.
Read background to the expansion of the Mount Thorley-Warkworth coal mine.