SEVERAL protesters who chained themselves to gates to prevent workers accessing the controversial Maules Creek coalmine site at Boggabri yesterday have been cut loose by police and arrested.
More than 100 campaigners from across the country descended on the Leard State Forest to mount a peaceful protest against Whitehaven Coal’s plans to mine more than 20 million square metres of land.
The demonstration comes as contractors for Whitehaven Coal, which has received government approval to extract up to 13 million tonnes of coal annually from the open cut mine, begin construction at the site.
Protesters have maintained a small presence at the site for more than a year but have signalled their intention to intensify the on-the-ground campaign as most legal avenues are now closed to them.
Raymond McLaren, the owner of Moonbi-based mining equipment supplier Andromeda Industries, arrived at one of the four protest locations at 6.30am to participate in his first-ever demonstration.
The 75-year-old said he was willing to be chained to a car, blocking an entry point to the site due to his staunch opposition to the proposed $767 million mine.
“I volunteered to be chained up and when you do that, of course there’s always a chance you will be arrested,” he said.
“I feel strongly about this forest. It’s the Leard Forest that we want to protect and keep from being destroyed. It’s just criminal to destroy a whole forest like this nowadays when they can actually go underneath it and still get their coal.”
Greenpeace spokeswoman Julie Macken said the protest was held to send a message
to Whitehaven Coal that “opposition to their planned coalmine in going to grow by the day”.
“Today was a demonstration of people coming from all over Australia to give the local community some support. We’re absolutely going to be successful – this mine is not going to get built. I say that not because we have billions of dollars or mates in power in politics, but because we’re right. This mine shouldn’t be built. The Leard State Forest is too important to too many people to be lost just on the basis of greed,” she said.
A Whitehaven Coal spokesman urged the protesters to “respect the final judgment of government consent authorities” that approved it.
“Protests at our project site are a nuisance, but they will not deter Whitehaven from getting on with the job of building Maules Creek and delivering the substantial economic benefits which the local community strongly supports. Our primary concern in the meantime is that any protests are carried out lawfully and do not endanger the safety of mine employees and emergency service personnel,” he said.
NSW Mining described the blockade as a “political stunt” and accused the protesters of risking the lives of construction workers.
“Interfering with construction sites and mining operations is illegal and places those involved and others at serious risk,” a spokesman said.