THE campaign against Whitehaven Coal’s Maules Creek mine intensified yesterday when more than 70 people were arrested after marching onto the site to express their opposition to the controversial development.
The demonstration began under the cover of darkness and continued well into the afternoon as an unprecedented number of people from all walks of life risked arrest to protest the $767 million project.
The activists climbed atop stationary mining machinery and unfurled banners containing messages such as “Save the Leard”, “Health before profit” and “Our land, our water, our future”.
Several opponents of the mine, which has both state and federal approval and is in the construction phase, used chains and locks to attach themselves to the equipment and had to be cut free.
Among those to fall foul of the law were legally blind 92-year-old World War II veteran Bill Ryan and first-time arrestees Maules Creek mum Roslyn Druce and Tamworth-based ecologist Phil Spark.
The protest came as the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report warning that the planet could be irreversibly damaged if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced dramatically.
Whitehaven Coal has permission to extract up to 13 million tonnes of coal a year from beneath the Leard State Forest, with environmentalists claiming that when burnt it will pump 30 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Mr Spark, 59, who will attend Narrabri Local Court on April 29 after being arrested for trespassing, said the report provided vindication for those who believe the mine should never have been allowed to proceed.
“It just highlights that we’ve got to stop these mines – we really do – if we’re ever to seriously address climate change,” Mr Spark said.
Ms Druce said protesters were calling for federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt to order construction of the mine cease until a thorough review of the company’s biodiversity offset strategy was undertaken.
“It’s just getting to the stage where it’s got to stop,” she said.
“We’ve got a Senate inquiry happening into the offsets, but it’s not good enough because while he’s stalling they’re destroying the forest.”
A Whitehaven Coal spokesman told The Leader “the only delays to the planned schedule of works at Maules Creek have been caused by the very welcome recent arrival of rain”.
A statement from NSW Police issued late yesterday afternoon indicated investigations were ongoing and more arrests were possible.
“The NSW Police Force will not tolerate breaches of the peace or criminal offences being committed by persons who attend unauthorised demonstrations or public assemblies,” the statement read.