PROTESTERS have accused NSW Police and the Forestry Corporation of acting as stooges for mining companies intent on suppressing opposition to their projects.
The claims come after warnings three state forests could be closed indefinitely to the public – but not miners – if activists continue their anti-mining campaign.
The sites, on which Whitehaven Coal, Boggabri Coal and Santos operate, have been the scene of a sustained campaign of civil disobedience in recent months.
Leard Forest Alliance spokeswoman Helen War said she believed the authorities were under pressure from the companies to stop the protests.
“I think there is incredible pressure because these are multinational corporations with billions of dollars,” she said.
When asked if NSW Police had been pressured by any of the companies to act, Western Region assistant commissioner Geoff McKechnie issued a blunt “No”.
On Tuesday, Forestry Corporation – acting on a police request citing public safety concerns – extended a three-month access ban in the Leard State Forest until at least the end of the month.
Police officers set up road blocks and denied a group of about 30 protesters from visiting the private residence of Maules Creek local Roslyn Druce.
The Leard State Forest, in which Whitehaven Coal and Boggabri Coal operate, was closed for three months from January amid claims camping protesters posed a fire risk.
Bibblewindi Forest and parts of Pilliga East Forest, where Santos is carrying out coal seam gas activities, were also declared off-limits to the public this week.
Narrabri shire farmer Sarah Ciesiolka, who is opposed to Santos’ plans to drill up to 850 wells in the area, accused the company of interference.
“It seems disturbingly clear that the local police are now taking orders from Santos, instead of defending the best interests of the public,” he said.
A Santos spokesperson told The Leader: “Santos did not make any request regarding the exclusion area recently enacted.”
Bundella farmer Megan Kuhn said the closures could actually pose a risk to residents and farmers in the area.
“It was local farmers visiting the state forest that first found the coal seam gas waste water spills and alerted authorities and media in recent years,” she said.