MAC: Mines and Communities

Australia: Aboriginal protestors arrested over Rio Tinto mine expansion

Published by MAC on 2016-07-19
Source: ABC, Newcastle Herald

Aboriginal elders forcibly removed from anti-mining protest in New South Wales Hunter Valley

By Cecilia Connell

ABC Upper Hunter

19 July 2016

Protesters rallying against a controversial Upper Hunter mine expansion have slammed the arrest of two Aboriginal elders who have been charged with resisting arrest.

A small group of Bulga locals were demonstrating against Rio Tinto's Mount Thorley Warkworth project on Putty Road near Singleton on Monday, when they were asked by police to leave due to planned blasting operations.

Onlookers say 66-year-old Wonnarua man, Kevin Taggart and his sister Patricia Hansson refused to move on and were forcibly removed by police.

Both have been charged with disobeying police direction and resist arrest, and were granted conditional bail to appear in Singleton Local Court in September.

Vice president of the Bulga Milbrodale Progress Association, Robert McLaughlin who was at the protest, said the treatment was unjustified.

"The Wonnarua People feel so strongly about this country that they could not, they just could not leave," Mr McLaughlin said.

A police spokesman said officers spoke with the group, advising them if they did not move, they would be arrested.

He said the group was directed to leave the blast area for their own safety.

A representative for Rio Tinto said that a safety zone was put in place so that an explosive blast could be let off as part of its normal operations.

"People were asked to move for their own safety and given every opportunity to do so, but unfortunately some refused," he said.

"Operations are continuing at Mount Thorley Warkworth under the development consent granted by the independent Planning Assessment Commission, after a rigorous process that considered all of the various issues and points of view raised, " the spokesperson said.

The project has been the subject of a long-running battle between the mining giant and Bulga locals, who have been firm in their stance against the destruction of the area's heritage aspects, including Saddle Ridge, the Warkworth Sands Woodlands, and convict-built Wallaby Scrub Road.

The Planning Assessment Commission approved the expansion in November 2015, which will see the life of the mine extended by more than 20 years.

Residents withdrew their latest appeal in the Land and Environment court in May, after the Environmental Defenders Office advised that it did not believe a challenge to protect the Warkworth Sands Woodland would succeed.

Graeme O'Brien, a member of the Bulga Milbrodale Progress Association, was also at the protest and said the community had been left with limited options.

"When you look at the history of what's happened with the whole of the Warkworth mine expansion, the fact that the Bulga Milbrodale Progress Association has won this twice in the court, and then of course, the mob that is in charge then changed the law.

"The people who live in Bulga, they want to maintain the quality of their village.

"It's a legitimate process, so we'll keep protesting and doing as much as we can."

Mount Thorley Warkworth mine protesters have been arrested

Joanne McCarthy

18 July 2016

POLICE have arrested two Aboriginal elders at a protest to stop Rio Tinto blasting at Warkworth mine.

Wonnarua elders Kevin Taggart and his sister Pat Hansson were arrested after telling police they would not move from the side of Putty Road.

The arrests occurred after police warned they would take action, and about 10 other protesters indicated they would leave. This followed legal advice.

Bulga residents are protesting the expansion of Mount Thorley Warkworth coal mine, the closure of Wallaby Scrub Road and the destruction of Aboriginal and European cultural heritage.

Police moved on the protest after more than three hours of a stand-off, to allow Rio Tinto to carry out blasting operations at the mine.

Bulga resident Stewart Mitchell, 72, said he was shocked by police actions after Mr Taggart and Mrs Hansson indicated they would not be leaving.

“I am rattled. I’m shocked about the manner in which they carried it out,” Mr Mitchell said.

“It’s the wrong way to go about things.”

Mr Mitchell said Bulga residents had fought for more than six years to stop the mine expansion.

“Justice was cruelly snatched away from us by the NSW Government, which re-approved the mine project, and stripped us of our right to challenge the new approval in court,” he said.

“The rules are rigged against us.

“We have been left with no option but to protest.

“We set up our peaceful vigil in frustration with a system that values coal above all us, and we are used to the state government siding with Rio Tinto against us. But even we are shocked that the government would send in the police to break up a peaceful vigil.”

Locals say they are undeterred, and will continue to hold protest vigils.

“We are taking a stand for justice,” said Mr Mitchell. “Community and culture is more important than coal. We know we have a lot of public support in NSW, and we expect that many people come to our vigil to support us.”

A Rio Tinto spokesman said the NSW Planning Assessment Commission found the benefits of the mine expansion outweighed the costs.

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