TWO men who scaled a coal loader before dawn at the Boggabri Coal mine site yesterday – and sat up there for eight hours – were arrested by police mid- afternoon.
They were being interviewed and charges are expected to be laid.
The two members of Frontline Action on Coal were protesting with the Northern Inland Council for the Environment (NICE).
About 10 protesters had gathered at the site, owned by Idemitsu Australia Resources, yesterday because direct action was one of the few avenues of appeal left to anti-coalmine protesters since the government had made it harder to mount “third-party, community challenges” on decisions it made about mining companies,” NICE spokesman Phil Spark said.
NICE spokeswoman Carmel Flint said both a “fourfold” expansion of the Boggabri Coal Mine approved on July 20 and last week’s NSW Planning Department-recommended approval for the adjoining Maules Creek Coal Project, east of Narrabri, had both been done under Planning Assessment Commission processes which “annihilated” any chance of mounting a legal challenge.
She claimed both approvals had been done under two Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) processes – which no other NSW project had ever been subjected to (it’s normally only one,
Ms Flint said) and was a deliberate attempt to stop legal challenges in their tracks.
“The first one (for the Boggabri Coal Mine) had a public hearing – and that public hearing quashes the right of appeal under the Environmental, Planning and Assessment Act 1979,” Ms Flint said.
“It’s an extraordinary clause which annihilates our right of appeal; we’ve had a barrister’s advice on that.
“Maules Creek hasn’t had its second PAC yet – but it’s on its way.”
While Idemitsu Australia Resources spokesman, Alasdair Jeffrey, said he sympathised with the protesters, he was confounded by NICE’s allegation that the right to mount a court challenge had been taken away.
“My understanding is that we did the two PACs but ... there was still an avenue to appeal on merit or process,” he said.
The determination on the expansion was made on July 20, with the merit appeal deadline of August 15 now expired – but NICE could still appeal the process of the decision up to 90 days after the July 20 approval, Mr Jeffrey said.
He also flatly rejected there had been a fourfold increase: the July 20 decision now meant a doubling of coal – from 3.5 million tonnes per annum to 7 million tonnes per annum – could now be extracted from the Boggabri Coal Mine.
The police rescue squad from Newcastle was called in to get the men down from the coal loader – where they’d slung hammocks and put up a banner saying “Stop the Coal Rush: Protect Health, Water, Climate”.
A NICE statement released yesterday stated: “The two mines (Boggabri and Maules Creek) form part of an open-cut coal complex planned for Leard State Forest and surrounding farmland ... the mines will clear 5000 hectares of bushland, extract 23 million tonnes of coal per annum and emit over 50 million tonnes of greenhouse gases each year”.
But Idemitsu general manager Development, Brian Cox, said in July: “The conditions that Boggabri mine must meet to continue operations are some of the most stringent for a mining project in NSW.”
“The conditions include comprehensive management plans to mitigate and offset project-related and cumulative noise, air quality and biodiversity impacts, amongst other matters,” he said.
The NSW Minerals Council condemned the waste of specialist police resources in responding to what it decribed as a “dangerous and ideologically motivated political stunt”.