BOGGABRI business leaders have called for drive-in, drive-out protesters waging a war against the area’s approved mining operations to pack up and move on, saying: “You don’t speak for us.”
A sustained crusade to halt harvesting of the region’s rich underground coal seams intensified last week, with a series of co-ordinated demonstrations interrupting work and leading to several arrests.
The Federal Court’s dismissal of a case on Friday challenging Whitehaven Coal’s right to construct a $767 million coalmine at Maules Creek near Boggabri only prompted environmentalists to call for more “direct action”.
But members of the Boggabri Business Promotions Association (BBPA) have questioned whether the agitators, comprising locals supported by groups such as Greenpeace and Front Line Action on Coal, truly have the widespread community support that they claim.
BBPA event co-ordinator and small business owner Donna Turner said it was just a few short years ago that the tiny town’s only supermarket closed down, raising serious concerns about its future.
But operations such as Idemitsu’s Boggabri Coal Mine and Tarrawonga Coal Project – a joint venture with Whitehaven Coal – brought money and jobs back to the local economy and reinvigorated the town.
“The mining is the biggest reason why Boggabri is growing,” Ms Turner said. “Whether it’s good or bad – it’s here and we have to work with them to try and get the best we can for the Boggabri people.”
Ms Turner runs a roofing and plumbing business with partner Pete Brien that has been one of the beneficiaries of the resources boom, expanding from one to seven employees on the back of mining-related contracts.
She said many people were especially frustrated at the actions of out-of-towners aligned to the Front Line Action on Coal group that had set up a camp in the Leard State Forest to protest the Maules Creeks project.
“A lot of them claim to represent the true feelings of the Boggabri community, saying that they’re doing it for the good of the town,” she said. “But they’re not, they’re just here representing whatever organisation they’re a part of.”
Fellow BBPA member Carolyn Nancarrow, who together with husband Colin moved their family to Boggabri from Sydney to create a successful earth-moving business, agreed, saying the actions hurt the entire community.
“Protest but don’t stop people who are employed by the mine earning their living,” she said.
Increasingly, the key to a community cashing in on a mining boom comes from local councils negotiating voluntary planning agreements worth millions of dollars with individual mining companies.
In the last two years, some of the substantial pledges Narrabri Shire Council has secured include $6 million for roads, $5 million to upgrade the airport, $2.5 million towards the town’s aquatic centre and $1.6 million to upgrade the Boggabri caravan park and swimming pool.
Boggabri resident Catherine Collyer, who was elected to the Narrabri Shire Council last year, said it was time for the protesters to accept the Maules Creek mine would proceed and to end their occupation of the Leard State Forest.
“Mining does bring opportunities for growth that would not be there if the mining industry hadn’t have come to our area,” she said.
“As far as what’s happening with the protesters in the Leard Forest, I know that the community finds it quite upsetting that they are saying they represent our community when they aren’t part of our community and have never come here to ask what their thoughts are.”