‘We will not be silenced’: Protesters refuse to quit

ANTI-MINING protesters have vowed they will not be silenced despite Narrabri Shire Council resolving to evict them from their camp in the Leard State Forest.

Fines will be issued to the environmentalists if they fail to comply with the move-on order, which is expected to be formally issued in the coming days.

It was standing room only yesterday afternoon when protesters converged on the council chambers for the emotion-charged extraordinary meeting.

There were chants of “shame” from the gallery when the council voted seven to three to use its powers to force the protesters from their camp.

The campsite was set up on a council-administered road reserve in the forest by Front Line Action on Coal member Murray Drechsler in August 2012.

For more than 540 days protesters have used the camp as a base to launch its anti-mining crusade – primarily targetting Whitehaven Coal over its Maules Creek coalmine.

But lobbying from the Barwon Local Area Command and Boggabri Coal in the last few days convinced the council to call a snap meeting to explore ways to break up the camp.

Outspoken environmentalist Phil Spark said that even if the camp was relocated, it would not stop the campaign of direct action that has seen 10 people arrested in the past week.

“I think that’s where the council is underestimating us,” he said. “If they think that by moving us from there it will make us go away, then they are wrong.

“Our movement’s growing all the time and I think that determination to see it through is increasing.”

Phil Laird, of the Maules Creek Community Council, addressed the meeting and slammed council for intervening in the matter.

“Campers have been there for 540 days without fire incident, including last year’s record-breaking summer,” he said.

“Their track record speaks for itself and the reality is that this is a state matter for the NSW Police and council should not get involved.

“To exercise council powers in a dispute between protesters and coal companies in such a way is unprecedented.

“There is no ‘emergency’ and council is on thin ice by calling this meeting with 24 hours notice.”

But council’s general manager Diane Hood said council’s decision to move on the camp after 18 months was not politically motivated.

She said the council was simply acting after receiving compelling evidence that the unauthorised use of a road reserve could pose safety risks.

“The mayor (Conrad Bolton) emphasised that council respects people’s right to protest and free speech and that isn’t what council saw this meeting as being about,” she said.

“Nor was it about debating the pros or cons of mining. It was specifically about unauthorised camping and the safety risks that imposes.”

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