Monday 21 October 2013

President's Report

Hi there and welcome to our 2013 AGM.

It’s been a very busy year for our Association, with exploratory drilling taking place on the mountain and several land owners seeking information about access agreements.

Late in 2012, NSW Farmers, in conjunction with the NSW Minerals Council and NSW Government, put out a template Land Access Arrangement for Minerals Exploration under the Mining Act 1992, to assist members who were negotiating access for minerals exploration. And we directed our members to this as a quality starting point for negotiations.
But a coal company misrepresented one of these access agreements to landowners, saying that it reflected the conditions and provisions in the template, when it did not. Some access agreements, which looked the same, with the NSW Farmers logo, were being distributed to some landholders. So NSW Farmers withdrew the template from their website and no longer endorsed its use. This caused a lot of concern and even more distrust of coal companies.
Then, at the end of July the Independent Commission Against Corruption handed down a damning report on corruption in the allocation of coal mining leases in NSW.
ICAC found that the directors of coal company Cascade Coal, and former ALP parliamentarians Eddie Obeid and Ian MacDonald, engaged in corrupt behaviour when coal licences were granted for three projects at Bylong and in the Hunter Valley. Inglenook was one of eleven coal exploration licences approved at the same time, so we were very interested in the outcome of this case.
The ICAC’s report exposed the dark underbelly of the whole management of coal mining in NSW -  communities are locked out, back room deals are done, and mining companies get their way.

But despite these findings, Barry O'Farrell has moved to weaken controls on coal mining even further. He plans to make it almost impossible for any authority to reject a major coal mine application – regardless of impacts on water, health or communities.
He has put forward changes to the state mining policy to make the development of significant mineral resources the primary consideration of decision-makers, trumping all other issues.

The Association put in a submission opposing these changes and we also met with our local MP Paul Toole as part of The Better Planning Lobby day at Parliament House on 20 August. As we pointed out to him, our primary concern is the reversal of the intention of the Aquifer Interference Policy in the State Environmental Planning Policy.

We believe that it is unacceptable for state significant development (which includes coal mining) to be exempt from the minimal impact standards in the policy. We want the Aquifer Interference Policy to be made binding for all development, including mining and coal seam gas exploration and production.

We asked Mr Toole to make representations to the Minister for Planning and Infrastructure on behalf of our Association to ensure that this issues is addressed
in the new Law.

But pollies have a way of passing the buck as you can see from the many letters that we’ve received over the year in response to our calls for support.

We’ve invited several guests to come and speak to our members over the year, and later, we’ll be hearing from Bruce Christie from the Central West Catchment Authority.

A few months ago, Craig Shaw, the Secretary of the Bylong Valley Protection Alliance spoke with us about his experience of Access and Arbitration

Craig and his partner own a property in Upper Bylong which is under an exploration licence held by Kepco Bylong. Cockatoo are the project managers for the drilling program. Together the two companies have been quite heavy handed in their approach to gain access to Craig's property.  And Craig admitted to us that during the process he had, on several occasions, felt suicidal.

He said that if he had his time again he would skip the very stressful process of arbitration altogether and save his resources for the Land and Environment Court, which he will be going to next. Basically, the whole process needs radical reform and Craig will be at the forefront of lobbying for that change. Incidentally, he will also be speaking at the Capertee Valley Alliance’s AGM so, if you’re interested, you could hear him speak there.

Centennial Coal has applied for an extension to their Mt Airly Mine operations in the Capertee Valley, which is a concern because the longwall proposals on Newnes plateau will cause subsidence under the endangered ecological community of swamps. They have refused to narrow the panels, some of which are 340 metres wide. Landowners are worried that this will drop swamps 2 metres, crack the underlying strata and drain them.

Many landowners around NSW who want to protect their land from coal mining feel they are being let down by the system.

You might’ve heard that the NSW Government has joined global mining giant Rio Tinto in a Supreme Court action to force an unwanted open cut coal mine onto the people of Bulga, in the Hunter Valley.

 The mine proposal was previously rejected by a NSW court, due to the unacceptable impacts it would have on public health, threatened bushland, and the ongoing viability of the village of Bulga. But Rio Tinto and the NSW Government have refused to accept the umpire's decision, and are now dragging the Bulga residents' group into the Supreme Court to get their way.

This is a new low point in a wider campaign of bullying and intimidation by mining companies against communities. Mining companies routinely lie to landholders, intimidate communities, and threaten legal action against anyone who would hinder or speak out against them. The coal bullies have shown they will do anything to get their way, including taking local residents groups to the Supreme Court.

 The O'Farrell Government should be protecting communities. Instead, they are behaving like the hired goons of the mining industry.

We asked the new mine manager from Charbon – Neil Larcomb, and the new project manager for Inglenook, to come and address us but they both declined our invitation, saying that the Community Consultation Committees were the forums to communicate with community members. We have representation on both of those CCC’s and regularly post minutes from the meetings on our blog but so often the answers to our questions ring hollow.

So far 15 of the planned 28 holes in Stage 1 have been drilled here on Mt Vincent, and the gossip is that most of those have been poor quality coal, which is good news. As is the downturn in coal prices, which has led to a slowdown in exploration activities, with Centennial now having only one drill rig operating over all their licences in the western coalfields. And there’s also the increasing awareness about the link between burning coal and climate change. As we know, coal fired power plants are a major contributor to rising CO2 levels which cause global warming. The current bushfires are a real sign that we need to shift our economies away from fossil fuels to alternative energy sources. So keep your fingers crossed that coal prices stay low and renewable energies get stronger!

Over the year, we have been working hard to get our message out in various ways. We had a presence along with other local community groups at the Mudgee Small Farm field Days and contributed  $200 to the stand.  Special thanks to everyone who helped man that stall and who donated items for the raffle.

Our online presence is also a vital means of communication and we are pleased to say we have a new website after a very damaging experience with our old one. One of our members who helped set up our original website, hijacked it earlier this year claiming that it was his and not the Associations’, despite the fact that 90% of the content was contributed by the committee. This was a real blow and we’ve been trying to negotiate access to it and our to other blog for our kids sub-branch -the Puggles Club – since March but unfortunately the member in question is incredibly stubborn and is refusing to budge. 

This has been a very upsetting experience for me personally because it’s hard enough working in a volunteer group with very few resources against a multi-national mining company, without having this sort of destructive internal power struggle going on. Anyway, thanks to our Treasurer, David Drinkwater, the new website is up and running and in a few short months has attracted over 6,000 page views.

We are also on Facebook. Our profile name is ‘Running Stream’ and we already have over 165 ‘friends’. And we’re on Twitter too - @RSWUA.

So onwards and upwards we go. Thanks to you all for your support and if there are any issues that you’d like the Association to address, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. We are here for you.

Thank you.

 Nell Schofield

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