Landholders who suffered through the worst drought in living memory while Whitehaven illegally captured one billion litres of water at its Maules Creek Coal Mine are outraged by the "pathetic" size of the penalty imposed for the crime.
The Land and Environment Court today handed down a fine of just $200,000 to the company after it pleaded guilty earlier this year to the water theft.
Whitehaven pleaded guilty to using dams and water storages at its Maules Creek mine site to illegally capture one billion litres of rainfall and surface water runoff between July 2016 and June 2019.
It’s the latest in a long list of crimes Whitehaven has received minor penalties for.
The sentence comes just weeks after the company was fined $30,000 for polluting a creek at its Tarrawonga coal mine with “high levels of metal and bicarbonates”.
A subsequent Lock the Gate Alliance analysis revealed the fine was equivalent to the value of coal shipped from the mine in less than an hour.
Boggabri farmer Sally Hunter said the fines were yet to change the repeat offender’s behaviour, and she doubted today’s penalty would either. She said $200,000 did not come close to reflecting the seriousness of the offence.
“While farmers were ploughing in their crops and stock were dying during the drought, Whitehaven took one billion litres of water without a licence. This water, at this time was priceless, and would have been a lifesaver for lots of farms and businesses” she said.
“Time and again we see Whitehaven flagrantly breaking the law and receiving little more than a slap on the wrist from the government or the courts. This pathetic fine will not stop this repeated behaviour.
“Ordinary members of the public are fined far more for much less. It’s long past time for the NSW Perrottet Government to get tough on mining companies and appropriately penalise them for the heinous crimes they are committing.”
Lock the Gate Alliance spokesperson Georgina Woods said people were sick of mining companies getting away with serious crimes with insignificant repercussions.
“In a week that a peaceful activist has been jailed for protesting, it is particularly jarring that this repeat offender should effectively get off scot free for such a major offence,” she said.
“It is difficult to see how the public can have faith in the legislation that governs coal mining companies when it is so clearly failing to keep the companies in line.”