Council to meet over protesters

NARRABRI Shire Council will hold an extraordinary meeting today to discuss what action, if any, it should take against anti-mining protesters camped in the Leard State Forest.

Pressure has been building in recent weeks on authorities to find a way to break up the Front Line Action on Coal camp that has occupied a road reserve for more than 530 days.

Mining companies in the area believe some of the camp’s members are behind covert criminal attacks on their properties, as well as the high-profile acts of civil disobedience.

An influx of environmentalists to the site in recent weeks has seen NSW Police and the Rural Fire Service raise concerns that the campers pose a fire risk and are obstructing emergency access roads.

Last week Forestry Corporation closed the Leard State Forest to the public and threatened anyone who refused to leave with fines of $2200.

But the plan backfired when the protesters obtained legal advice that proved the camp was not on forestry-controlled land, but a road reserve managed by Narrabri Shire Council.

That prompted both Boggabri Coal operations general manager  Ken McLaren and Barwon LAC commander Gelina Talbot to write to the council requesting it take action.

“We urge council to investigate every possible avenue available to the authorities to enforce the removal from the area of these camps and persons,” Mr McLaren said in a letter dated January 16.

Superintendent Talbot said police officers attended the camp “almost daily” to “address protesters who are not acting peacefully and are committing criminal offences”.

“While the NSW Police Force respects the right of individuals to free speech and to undertake peaceful protests, there has been an increase in unsafe and criminal protest activity during December 2013 and January 2014,” she wrote on January 17.

“(It) has seen a number of protesters from that camp enter restricted mining areas and pose significant risk to not only their safety, but also to the safety of police and mining staff.

“I ask that Narrabri Shire Council consider and recommend to the unauthorised campers more suitable and safer locations to relocate to that in turn ensures their safety and would still allow them to undertake their peaceful activities.”

Narrabri council’s general managerDiane Hood said if the council resolved to take action to disperse the protesters, it should not be read as a move to silence debate.

“I would hope that’s not the case,” she said.

“There are other places the protesters could camp that wouldn’t constitute the same risk to public safety and have the same level of fire risk.”

The meeting will be held at the council chambers in Maitland St from 12.30pm.

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