Open-cut coalmine anger rises

OPPONENTS of the contentious $767 million Maules Creek coalmine have called for protesters to ramp up their campaign of civil disobedience after the Federal Court dismissed their appeal yesterday.

Members of the Northern Inland Council for the Environment (NICE) expressed “deep disappointment” after their case challenging the approval of Whitehaven Coal’s open-cut mine was dismissed.

NICE spokesman Phil Spark said the decision confirmed the country’s environment laws were “broken” and could not protect farmers or the environment from “reckless coalmining”. 

He said while the council would review the judgment to identify possible grounds for appeal, the ruling had left protesters seeking to save the Leard State Forest with little choice but to continue the disruptive actions witnessed over the past week.

“This disappointing decision today will trigger even greater community opposition to the Maules Creek coalmine and we expect to see more and more people visiting the forest to take direct action against such an environmentally disastrous mining project,” he said.

“The Maules Creek coalmine is a risky, reckless and damaging investment that will now face determined and growing opposition from concerned citizens across the country.”

Whitehaven Coal, whose share price closed 3 per cent up to $1.86, has not let the appeal stop it from forging ahead with construction of what it describes as “one of the most significant pieces of economic infrastructure ever delivered in regional NSW”.

In an announcement to the Australian Securities Exchange yesterday afternoon, company chairman and former deputy prime minister Mark Vaile welcomed the court’s decision.

“The resolution of this outstanding legal challenge, our successful recent debt realignment and gradually improving global coal prices should give Whitehaven investors real certainty and confidence about the company’s future,” he said.

NICE challenged the mine’s approval by then-environment minister Tony Burke on five grounds, including that he was influenced by the leaking of commercially sensitive information and also failed to properly consider the full impact of the mine on an endangered plant species.

However, Justice Dennis Cowdroy rejected all five arguments, as well as dismissing a separate appeal against a decision to allow the expansion of Idemitsu’s Boggabri Coalmine.

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