Bulga residents dismayed as NSW Planning Dept gives tick to Rio Tinto Warkworth mine approval

MEDIA RELEASE – 6 November 2015
Bulga residents dismayed as NSW Planning Dept gives tick to Rio Tinto Warkworth mine approval

Bulga residents and supporters have slammed today’s announcement by the NSW Department of Planning of its final recommendation that the Planning and Assessment Commission approve Rio Tinto’s Warkworth Mine Expansion.

John Krey, Bulga resident and President of the Bulga Milbrodale Progress Association said, “The Department of Planning’s final recommendation to approve Rio Tinto’s open cut coal mine expansion, which will devastate our community and create one more massive void in a endangered bushland, undermines two court wins where justice was handed to Bulga.

“Despite the court judgments in our favour, Rio Tinto and NSW Planning have worked closely together to ensure this open cut mine goes ahead, by hook or by crook.

“Today’s decision is pure madness. We remained determined to ensure this mine expansion is thrown on history’s scrap heap – where it belongs.

“Almost 3,000 people have signed the Bulga Declaration, promising to support our community and use peaceful, direct action to stop the mine expansion proceeding,” Mr Krey said.

Georgina Woods, NSW Coordinator for Lock the Gate Alliance said. “This recommendation should embarrass the Baird government after its stated quest to find more balance in assessing the likely impacts of mining. The laws we’ve got are clearly failing the people of New South Wales and urgent intervention is needed.

“The Department of Planning is repeating the fiction that this expansion is needed to secure jobs. We know that’s not the case. There’s plenty of coal available in Rio Tinto’s existing mining approvals, and a series of recent ticks for mines have failed to deliver jobs security in the region.

“An underlying structural change is underway in the coal industry and sacrificing Bulga and the vanishing bushland that shields it from this huge mining complex at Rio Tinto’s demand is a waste and a crime,” Ms Woods said.

Contacts:  To line up interviews – Alison Orme 0432 332 104

John Krey, Bulga resident and President, BMPA, 0419 247 682

Georgina Woods, Lock the Gate, 0437 405 932

Other spokespeople available on request: residents, local vignerons and water, environmental and economic experts.

IMAGES:High quality stills available for download and publication:  Bulga and the current mine, residents at the final Planning and Assessment hearing on 30 June 2015 in Singleton and the Premier and Rob Stokes’ visit to Bulga on 28 April 2015.

Overview of mine expansion battle

The Bulga community, alongside the Wonnarua traditional custodians, have been fighting for over five years to stop a massive coal mine expansion by Rio Tinto that will obliterate their town.

Both the Land and Environment Court, and the NSW Supreme Court (Court of Appeal), rejected Rio Tinto’s plans but in mid 2014 Rio Tinto resubmitted for approval an almost identical project to that already rejected by the courts. Earlier, the NSW government joined Rio Tinto in its appeal and changed mining regulations to sidestep the Land & Environment Court’s judgment. As a result, the economic significance of a coal resource was made the principal consideration for mining development approvals, above impacts on water, biodiversity, amenity and other land uses.

On 5 March 2015 the Planning and Assessment Commission found the application to extend the coal mine was “capable of being approved”, despite having been knocked back twice already in court. One of its suggestions was that the town of Bulga be moved.

As a result of government ‘reforms’, the Bulga community no longer enjoy appeal rights to the Land and Environment Court on the merits of the decision  – a right ICAC recommended would help prevent corruption.

In July 2015 the NSW Planning Minister proposed changing the mining SEPP to remove provisions providing that the significance of the resource is the principal matter for consideration when assessing a mining project, instead requiring consideration of a range of factors including relevant social, environmental and economic impacts. After public consultation this was approved on 31 August.

The Minister took the unusual step of announcing a second review PAC on 17 August, to take into account these changes. Despite this, on 22 October 2015 the review PAC again recommended the mine be approved.

The actual approval was made by a different Planning and Assessment Commission, which has already been convened, but which had been on hold until this second review made its recommendation.

Major projects are determined by a Planning and Assessment Commission when there are a large number of objections, as has occurred for Warkworth, to keep these decisions at arm’s length from the Minister for Planning, who would otherwise have that responsibility.

Rio Tinto’s expansion has been criticised for its severe noise and dust impacts on residents, destruction of a critically endangered woodland and impact on 110 registered Aboriginal cultural sites. The company, along with Peabody, Vale and Anglo American, are reportedly looking to sell down or exit their coal portfolios in Australia.

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