MAC: Mines and Communities

Farmers claim win in BHP fight

Published by MAC on 2010-03-18
Source: The Australian, Sydney Morning Herald (2010-03-09)

Australian farmers fighting  proposed coal mining by the world's biggest mining company recently vowed to continue their struggle, after losing a court action. (See: http://www.minesandcommunities.org/article.php?a=9793)

Now they have been partially vindicated, as the country's Supreme Court finds that BHP Billiton's exploration licenses are invalid, because the company failed to consult all the landowners (including the mortgaging banks).

Farmer 'vindicated' after court win against BHP Billiton

Lanai Vasek, The Australian

9 March 2010

WHEN Les Alcorn decided he wanted to take the world's largest mining company to court, he knew it wouldn't be easy.

He also knew he and his wife, Margaret, would need the full support of the local community to protect their farm of 37 years from BHP Billiton's exploration plans.

Yesterday, Mr Alcorn's worries turned to celebration as the 75-year-old cattle farmer from Quirindi, on the Liverpool Plains in NSW's mid-north, savoured a landmark decision handed down in the Supreme Court on Friday.

Judge Monika Schmidt found that BHP's licences to explore for coal on two farms in the region -- the Alcorns' and the family farm of Geoff and Sharon Brown -- were invalid because the company had not consulted other landholders: the banks.

"I feel vindicated," Mr Alcorn told The Australian yesterday.

"This is a win not just for us but for all farmers around Australia . . . it sets precedents and says that mining companies have to smarten up their act and do things by the book."

BHP paid $100 million to the NSW government in 2006 for an exploration licence in the region -- one of Australia's most fertile foodbowls. Under that licence, it won the right to access 21 private properties. The Mining Act permits miners to explore for resources on private land.

However, the court heard that while the state's mining warden had given BHP access to the sites, the miner had not contacted the banks to inform them of its plans.

The court found the banks, which held mortgages over the properties, were entitled to be informed of the exploration because of the potential impact it could have on the value of the farms.

Mr Alcorn said up to 120ha of his 607ha farm would have been severely affected if BHP had been allowed to continue exploration.

"While they had access, it was a big inconvenience, no matter how careful they were," Mr Alcorn said.

He said farmers "everywhere" would be heartened by the ruling. "Hopefully, they can take some spirit from it, but more importantly, I hope the politicians . . . realise the Mining Act needs serious review," he said.

"Farmers need to have equal footing. We deserve our property rights."


Farmers triumph over miners

Drew Warne-Smith, The Australian

6 March 2010

MINING companies may be unable to prospect on private land throughout NSW if they failed to negotiate access with the mortgagee as well as the property owner, after a landmark decision in the NSW Supreme Court yesterday.

Farmers in the Liverpool Plains in northern NSW were last night celebrating after their first major victory over BHP Billiton in their bid to protect one of Australia's most fertile food bowls from the threat of coalmining.

The mining giant paid $100 million to the NSW government for an exploration licence in the region four years ago, and under that licence it has won the right to access to 21 private properties.

However, in what is believed to be a first, the NSW Supreme Court yesterday quashed the access arrangements made by the state's Mining Warden for two of those farms, owned by the Brown and Alcorn families of Quirindi.

Judge Monika Schmidt ruled that the warden's court had erred in granting access to BHP because the company failed to notify the owners' banks of its plans to conduct exploratory digging, and, contrary to the warden's finding, the lenders did have an interest in whether the land might be contaminated by such activity. Justice Schmidt found the Mining Warden had, without explanation, refused to impose any specific access conditions on BHP to address environmental concerns.

A spokesperson for BHP Billiton said the company was considering its options, while the NSW Minister for Mineral Resources Ian Macdonald said the government was considering the impact of the court decision.


Farmers claim win in BHP fight

Kate Lahey, Sydney Morning Hearld

6 March 2010

A GROUP of NSW farmers is claiming a victory over BHP Billiton, after the NSW Supreme Court found the mining giant's licences to explore for coal on their properties were invalid because the company had not consulted other landholders - the banks.

The effect of the ruling on all exploration licences was not clear yesterday, as BHP and the NSW Minerals Council said they needed more time to think over the court's decision.

But the farmers of Caroona, from the Liverpool Plains north-west of the Hunter Valley, were hailing the judgment a landmark decision that strengthened the rights of property owners and better protect the environment.

Justice Monika Schmidt quashed an earlier determination of the Warden's Court and final determinations of an arbitrator in the case, saying that because each landholder was not involved in the access agreements they were not valid.

Justice Schmidt also said particular environmental concerns for the specific sites BHP wanted to drill had not been properly resolved.

Crop farmer Tim Duddy, a spokesman for the group that took on BHP, said any exploration on mortgaged land was now in doubt.

''If that land is mortgaged to somebody, and it doesn't matter whether it's the ANZ bank or great aunt Gertrude, their access arrangements are not valid - it is absolutely huge,'' Mr Duddy said.

''What it means for the future is that exploration in areas such as Liverpool Plains will be carried out appropriately rather than exploring the Liverpool Plains like they're exploring Broken Hill, where there is no underground water source to damage.''

The Mining Act permits miners to explore for resources on private land. BHP paid a record $100 million for the permit in 2006.

Justice Schmidt said one of the two farm owners who led the case was seeking organic certification for their crops and was concerned the exploration work could contaminate their land.

Another family of cattle farmers feared the work could contaminate their lagoon and potentially poison or contaminate their cattle.

''The whole process has been so completely skewed and one-sided to enable mining at all costs that the environment and every other business pursuit in the state has been completely overlooked,'' Mr Duddy said.

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