Australia’s largest coal mine currently under construction in the Leard State Forest near Maules Creek, New South Wales is mired in controversy.
Last month mining magnate Nathan Tinkler testified before the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). ICAC, the body that forced the resignation of Liberal Premier Barry O’Farrell in April, heard that Tinkler was a central figure in a series of allegedly corrupt schemes to get projects, like the Maules Creek mine, approved.
The inquiry also revealed that companies associated to Tinkler, such as Whitehaven, made $50,000 in political donations to both the Liberals and Nationals prior to the 2011 state election.
Until June 2013, Tinkler served as the majority shareholder of Whitehaven, the company that began construction of the $757 million Maules Creek mine in January. The chairman of Whitehaven is former Deputy Prime Minister and Trade Minister under John Howard, Mark Vaile. Their lobbyist Liam Bathgrave served as Barry O’Farrell’s chief of staff.
The Maules Creek mine is a politically motivated project that puts the interests of big business and profits before the environment and local community. It must be stopped.
The Leard State Forest covers 8,000 hectares of bush land near Narrabri and Boggabri. It is home to some of the last standing and intact populations of critically endangered Box Gum Woodland, as well as 396 species of plants and animals. It also includes habitat for 34 threatened species and several rare ecological communities.
Although the New South Wales government recently identified the forest as an area that “cannot sustain further biodiversity loss”, mining is still permitted in the area. The Maules Creek mine area holds many significant sites and artifacts for the local aboriginal community. The Gomeroi people are now prevented from entering the mine site, after a dispute with Whitehaven over their failure to preserve items of cultural significance and heritage.
Open cut mining threatens to destroy 5,000 hectares of forest. Two open cut mines at Boggabri and Tarrawonga are already in operation and have government approval to expand further into the Leard State Forest.
Whitehaven hopes the Maules Creek will operate 24 hours a day, before loading coal onto trains to Newcastle where it will be exported to Australia’s largest trading partners, China and India. The mine is expected operate for 30 years, which, when burned, will contribute to 30 million tons of carbon emissions, a figure far greater than the total emissions of many developed nations.
The campaign to stop the mine has been militant with blockades and community pickets halting work. In January 2013, days before then Labor Environment Minister Tony Burke approved the project, the campaign gained national attention when anti-coal activist Jonathan Moylan released a fake press release from ANZ.
In the release he declared that the bank had withdrawn $1.2 billion in funding from the project, causing Whitehaven’s value to temporarily drop by $314 million on the ASX. The campaign of direct action has escalated since January when Whitehaven began construction. Since December 130 people have been arrested after blockades and community pickets have been broken by the police.
It is clear that important decisions about the environment, jobs and the future of local communities should not be left in the hands of profiteers or the major parties that represent them.
If the mining industry was brought into public ownership, and democratically run by the workers and the community, then a plan could be developed to immediately close down the mines operating in the Leard State Forest. Instead investment could be diverted into renewable energy technology.
Mining workers displaced by mine closures could be retrained to fill environmentally sustainable jobs. These are the socialist alternatives to profit driven environmental destruction.
By Conor Flynn