Former member for New England and Werris Creek resident,Tony Windsor, writes to give his side of the story concerning the sale of land to Werris Creek Coal.
There is clearly interest in my family’s dealings with the sale of land to our next-door neighbour, Werris Creek Coal, a subsidiary of Australian company Whitehaven Coal, and I would like to set the record straight.
Coalmining by Preston Coal Co began in 1929, roughly 400 metres from where my family lives.
My parents moved to the farm in 1954.
The current mining operation under Werris Creek Coal Co started again about 15 years ago on our next-door neighbour’s land.
This followed some years of gett-ing approval from the NSW government.
At that time the proposed mine was tiny by mining standards; of about 7 million tonnes in total – about 1.5 per cent of the original Shenhua proposal for comparison.
Some years later the company applied for an extension to mine up to 20 million tonnes.
The increased capacity meant that what is called “the zone of affectation” would be breached.
This means, by law, that the company has to approach neighbours who may be impacted by noise, dust or safety issues. Land owned by members of my family fell within the zone.
It was also proposed in the extension (if economically viable) to mine a small portion of our land, (10 hectares) – that extension would bring the mine to within 200 metres of our house.
After receiving specialist legal advice, it became clear that there were no grounds to suggest that the mine would not be granted approval to expand.
Like every other farmer in Australia, my family have no rights over the minerals that lie beneath the topsoil.
Historically, where a dispute exists between a farmer and a miner, a solution is reached in the Land and Environment Court, where recompense for loss of land is determined.
Given that the soil involved was a gravel ridge that was adjacent to a road base quarry of 70 years standing, it was obvious that my family would have to deal with the company.
A range of other options existed, including acquisition of the land.
This became further complicated by the fact that I did not want to leave that land, as my father was killed there in a tractor accident in1959.
Obviously, if a legal conflict developed via acquisition, the ability to live where I had spent most of my life would have been negated.
The company was given approval by the NSW government for its extension.
Fast forward to today ... the mine is still next door.
Our land has not been mined as some have suggested, and may never be mined if the current economic situation continues.
My family still live in the same house that my wife and I built.
To be clear – I have not sold land to Chinese interests and contrary to the misinformation, I have never owned or sold a coalmine to anyone!
I have never been opposed to mining.
My concern as regards the Liverpool Plains has always been about the need for objective science to assess risk as it relates to the groundwater, the broader floodplain and surface water issues.
The advent of the “water trigger” gave the federal parliament some say in the approval process, a decision of which I am very proud.