One-million-tonne expansion of Tarrawonga mine pending

OPPONENTS of the Tarrawonga coal-mine expansion have called on the federal Environment Minister to reject the proposal, fearing it will destroy the Leard State Forest.

They say the state government’s track record of approving harmful mining projects in the North West is the result of an "approval system rather than a planning system".

The expansion was approved by the state’s Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) last week. 

It now awaits the final tick of approval from the Environment Minister, Tony Burke.

If approved, Whitehaven Coal’s Tarrawonga mine – about 15km north east of Boggabri – will go from extracting two million tonnes of coal per year to three million tonnes.

To do so, the mine will expand into a southern part of the Leard Forest.

Whitehaven expects to prolong the project’s life by 17 years.

Long-time opponents of the expansion and Whitehaven’s proposed neighbouring Maules Creek coalmine – also set for federal approval – have stepped up their campaign and revealed a series of banners aimed at the federal minister to reject the projects.

Mr Burke will make his determination on Maules Creek, set to be the biggest coalmine in the North West, and Idemitsu’s Boggabri coalmine expansion by Thursday.

Staging protests at Mr Burke’s office and the Whitehaven mine on Wednesday, the Front Line Action on Coal group unfurled banners reading “The Burke stops here, save Leard Forest” in an attempt to bring attention to the issue.

Group spokeswoman Emma Brown said coal expansion into the Leard Forest would destroy thousands of hectares of the woods.

Their protest came just a week after fellow Front Line member Jonathan Moylan was questioned by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission for orchestrating a hoax that temporarily stripped Whitehaven’s shares by more than $300 million at the beginning of January.

Phil Laird, a local farmer and member of the Maules Creek Community Council, was disappointed with the PAC’s determination.

But he said he wasn’t surprised.

“It validates what we’ve been saying all along, that it’s an approval system rather than a planning system,” Mr Laird said.

He is concerned Tarrawonga’s expansion will have a long-lasting impact on nearby farmers and the mine’s open-cut “void” will impact on the environment.

The Tarrawonga approval will be open to appeal in the Land and Environment Court.

Northern Inland Council for the Environment spokeswoman Carmel Flint said they wouldn’t rule out making an appeal.