MAC: Mines and Communities

Court blow to farmers fighting coal exploration

Published by MAC on 2010-01-11
Source: CLANCY YEATES, Sydney Morning Herald (2010-01-07)

Court blow to farmers fighting coal exploration

CLANCY YEATES, Sydney Morning Herald

7 January 2010

FARMERS trying to block BHP Billiton from exploring for coal in some of the most fertile land in NSW have lost the latest leg in their legal battle, but have promised to keep challenging.

The NSW Land and Environment Court yesterday dismissed proceedings brought by farmers from Caroona, from the Liverpool Plains north-west of the Hunter Valley.

The Caroona Coal Action Group said the Government had failed to follow due process when it issued BHP's exploration licence, but the court ruled against the farmers.

Chief Justice Brian Preston found no grounds for ruling the licence was invalid, but stressed the court was not judging whether the licences should have been granted in the first place.

The decision comes after blockades by the farmers, who fear that developing the coalfields could damage aquifers that are critical to their livelihood. Despite the setback they say the fight has further to run.

One landowner, Timothy Duddy, would not rule out a further challenge in the Court of Appeal. ''We are not about to roll over just yet,'' he said.

Mr Duddy said governments were cutting corners with approvals because of the lure of mining royalties. BHP paid $100 million for the permit in 2006, setting a record, while the Chinese-owned Shenhua paid $300 million for another licence in the area. A year earlier, the licences were estimated to be worth about $10 million each.

''They are turning a blind eye to the proper processes and they are turning a blind eye to the laws that they created,'' Mr Duddy said. ''It would be a very brave court that ruled in our favour in this business, when so much of the state relies on the proceeds of mineral exploration.''

The case is being watched closely because of its potential implications for other mining deals. Because of the commodities boom, it is one of a growing number of clashes between farmers and resources companies.

Miners and energy companies have the right to explore for resources on private land under the Mining Act, but the intrusion and environmental damage has sparked similar protests in other areas, including Queensland's coalfields.

After an inquiry into the impact of mining in the Murray Darling Basin, a Senate committee last month called on state governments to conduct regional water plans before releasing more permits.

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