THE Leard State Forest protesters welcomed one of the heavy-hitters of Australia’s environmental movement yesterday when former leader of the Australian Greens, Bob Brown toured the area.
Mr Brown was passing through the region and decided to detour through the Boggabri forest after a long-running interest in the campaign against the expansion of Whitehaven Coal’s Maules Creek mine.
Leard Forest Alliance member Phil Spark said a group of local farmers had met with Mr Brown, who he described as a long-term supporter of the campaign against the clearing of parts of the area.
Mr Brown, who first came to prominence as one of the leaders of the campaign against the damming of Tasmania’s Franklin River, said it had been good to finally visit an area he had heard so much about.
“I wanted to get a feel for this piece of country and see what was at stake here,” he said during a brief stopover at Tamworth’s Oxley Lookout.
“It was a real treat to visit, a very special piece of the Australian bush ... but it looks like a garden with a herd of elephants in it.”
He challenged governments to put the forest’s ecological value ahead of financial gain and questioned the integrity of the mining approvals process, including Whitehaven’s controversial environmental land swaps.
Under this scheme the company was required to buy additional land to offset clearing of the forest, but Mr Brown described this as a “greenwash”.
“Another piece of forest is not this piece of forest ... it’s a sham and lacks integrity,” he said.
“If the legal processes were working properly ... if there was integrity and ecological science brought to bear, this project wouldn’t go ahead.”
Mr Brown also challenged the notion protesters were taking police off the beat, arguing it was the mining companies who were calling them away from more important duties.
He said it remained vital for the community to get behind the protest effort and recognise those on the frontline, including local farmers and community members, were making a stand for future generations.
“The question for all of us as the planet goes down the tube, ‘in your area, who’s standing up for it’?” he said.
“The answer is dinky-di Australians are standing up for it.”
Mr Spark said Mr Brown’s visit had been a real boost for the protest efforts, providing them with another powerful voice to push the campaign to the wider community.
“If enough people understand this issue, logic will prevail,” he said.
“We know we’re right and what we’re doing is right.”
Meanwhile, a Senate inquiry has failed to reach agreement about controversial legislation that will hand over federal government decision-making power for large coalmines and coal seam gas projects that impact on water resources.
The committee report recommended that the bill be passed, and expressed its support for the “one-stop shop” agenda of the government, but that recommendation was rejected by half of the committee, who produced two dissenting reports recommending that the bill should not be passed.
“The federal government has broken its promise to country Australia that it would retain the water trigger that was created to protect the productive aquifers and rivers that support farming and rural communities from permanent damage by coal and CSG mining,” Lock the Gate Alliance spokeswoman Georgina Woods said.
“The water trigger has been on the statutes for just 12 months and was introduced because of concerns that short-term mining interests were being put before the long- term protection of clean, safe water.
“The bill will not repeal the water trigger, but will effectively neuter it, as it provides for all decision-making to be handed to state governments under their existing legislation.
“We will be back where we started.
“The states can’t be trusted to act in the national interest to protect resources like the Murray-Darling Basin, the Lake Eyre Basin or the Great Artesian Basin.
“These are the lifeblood of much of inland Australia.
“The Great Artesian Basin is under threat from multiple CSG developments. We’ve already seen the risks of CSG activities after a shallow aquifer in North West NSW was polluted with high levels of salt and uranium due to a leaking CSG wastewater storage pond.
“The productive foodlands of the Liverpool Plains are under threat from two monster coalmines, one of which has already been recommended for approval by the NSW Department of Planning.
“They will draw down productive aquifers and exacerbate salinity in the Murray-Darling Basin.
“We call on the federal government to abandon this reckless plan and maintain the water trigger and, failing that, we will be urging the Senate to reject the proposed law changes.”
A rally will be held in Gunnedah tomorrow at 9am against the proposed Shenhua Watermark coalmine on the Liverpool Plains, ahead of a NSW Planning and Assessment Commission public hearing about the project.