MAC: Mines and Communities

Australia: Traditional owners picket Whitehaven Coal mine site

Published by MAC on 2013-07-17
Source: Australian Associated Press, ABC Net, Reuters (2013-07-19)

Traditional owners picket Whitehaven Coal mine site

Indigenous protesters claim mine approved last week would destroy local heritage sites in northern New South Wales

Australian Associated Press

8 July 2013

Protesters have vowed to continue their fight against a Whitehaven Coal mine approved last week, saying it will destroy local heritage sites in north-west New South Wales.

Workers walked off the job at the $767 million Maules Creek project on Monday morning as more than 50 Gomeroi traditional owners formed a picket line.

Whitehaven received final approvals to begin construction at the site near Boggabri last Thursday after a three-year process.

Gomeroi traditional owner Stephen Talbot says the Maules Creek mine will clear more than 4000 acres of "culturally significant forest, artefacts and cultural values" which have not been properly assessed.

"The forest contains cultural heritage sites, food sources, and totems of our people, and most of them will be permanently destroyed by the planned mine," Talbot said in a statement.

"There hasn't been a proper consultation process, the management plan is flawed and we don't believe that our people have been treated with proper respect or that our concerns about the destruction of cultural heritage have been addressed."

A Whitehaven spokeswoman, however, said there had been discussions with Aboriginal representative groups since the earliest days of the Maules Creek project.

"A detailed Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Impact Assessment was included ... as part of the planning process and consultation has continued throughout the project," she said.

"Our Aboriginal Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Management Plan was lodged with the state government and has been approved.

"The management plan details the consultation process to date and the planned approach to consultation moving forward, as well as the management of salvage works."

Discussions were continuing with protesters.

Talbot said demonstrators would return to Boggabri Park in greater numbers on Tuesday to continue their protest.

He called for all salvage works to be halted until community concerns had been addressed.

Whitehaven is permitted to extract up to 13 million tonnes of coal per annum and rail 12.4 million tonnes from the site each year.

The federal government gave conditional approval for the project in February this year.


Red Chief Aboriginal Land Council protests against Whitehaven Coal

ABC News

8 July 2013

The New South Wales Department of Planning says it will fully investigate any alleged breaches of Whitehaven Coal's conditions of approval at its Maules Creek mine in the state's north-west.

Nearly 60 traditional owners of the Gomeroi nation gathered outside the Boggabri office of Whitehaven Coal today, accusing the company of disrespecting Aboriginal artefacts.

Last week, the Federal Government gave Whitehaven Coal approval to go ahead with its Maules Creek mine in the Gunnedah Basin - one of the largest open-cut operations in the state.

Aboriginal elders and traditional owners walked out of a Whitehaven meeting at Gunnedah on Friday, saying items that need to be salvaged are not being preserved.

The Red Chief Aboriginal Land Council's Toni Comber says the Cultural Heritage Management Plan has been breached.

"There was a united decision made, that was unanimous, that all cultural heritage management work and salvage works would cease until further notice," she said.

"What we're requesting is a meeting with the mine.

"We actually want to have the Office of Environment and Heritage and the Department of Planning also at the table.

"We believe there's a number of breaches in a number of acts that are occurring at the moment."

Whitehaven Coal says it has carried out formal consultation with a number of local Aboriginal groups since the earliest days of the Maules Creek Project.

The company says a detailed Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Impact Assessment was completed, and it will discuss concerns with the people who have raised them.

New South Wales Planning says it wants to talk to the protestors to discuss their concerns.

The Federal Environment Department is still assessing if the issue comes under its jurisdiction.


Whitehaven battles court bid to stall new mine

Reuters

19 July 2013

MELBOURNE - An environmental group has gone to court to overturn the Australian government's approval of two Whitehaven Coal Ltd mines, potentially stalling its biggest growth project, the $707 million Maules Creek mine.

Whitehaven, Australia's second biggest independent coal miner, said on Friday that for the time being the court fight would not stop work on Maules Creek in New South Wales, a metallurgical coal mine crucial to cutting its exposure to the depressed thermal coal market.

Whitehaven won final environmental approvals for Maules Creek in early July after several delays, and aims to have the first coal sales from the mine in the second half of 2014.

That approval and the federal environment minister's nod for Whitehaven's Boggabri mine are being challenged in the Federal Court of New South Wales by a group that says it's concerned about forest destruction, a drop in groundwater and coal dust on farms from the open-pit mine.

"We are challenging the approval of the Maules Creek and Boggabri coal mines because of the dodgy process by which they were approved and the devastating impacts they will have," Phil Spark, a spokesman for the Northern Inland Council for the Environment, said in a statement.

The group believes the federal environment minister's decision was flawed according to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

Whitehaven shares fell 2 cents to A$2.12, lagging a 0.1 percent gain in the broader market.

The company said the court fight was targeting a legal error, not the merit of the government's decision to approve the mine, and so work at Maules Creek could proceed pending the outcome of the case.

"The mere commencement of the litigation does not preclude the company from relying on the approval to proceed with construction," Whitehaven said in a statement to the Australian stock exchange.

However Whitehaven was eager to see the issue resolved as soon as possible and said if the court found the environment minister had made a legal error, the company would ask the government to fix the mistake and grant a new approval swiftly.

Whitehaven contrasted this court case with another environmental fight which has stalled bigger rival Rio Tinto's Warworth mine extension, also in the state of New South Wales.

That challenge is based on the merit of the state's decision to approve Rio's project.

A lawyer for the environmental group said technically it is possible the court action could result in a rejection of the Maules Creek project.

"If the court invalidates the approval, and the matter goes back to the minister for the environment, then certainly the minister can make a decision to approve or refuse the project," said Sue Higginson, a lawyer with the Environmental Defender's Office. (Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Stephen Coates)

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