A BLACK Friday anti-coal and gas mining rally at 11am this morning is expected to attract more than 200 protesters to Singleton Civic Centre.
It is aimed to send a blunt message to state Planning Minister Brad Hazzard, Resources Minister Chris Hartcher and Member for Upper Hunter George Souris.
The community wants the region’s social, agricultural and ecological environments genuinely protected from industrial expansion.
The three politicians are coming for a two-hour public forum on the government’s controversial draft Upper Hunter strategic regional land use plan.
Mr Hazzard said the forum, which begins at noon, would be an opportunity for him to listen, rather than give a speech on regional land use.
The draft plan drew immediate outrage from farmers, vignerons, community health groups and environmentalists when it was made public last month.
They said it failed to protect rural, urban and sensitive biodiversity land, water sources or Aboriginal and European heritage sites from coal or coal seam gas mining.
The draft plan says its “key policy response for resolving land use conflict between mining and coal seam gas proposals and agricultural land is the proposed gateway process”.
The process involves a panel of “independent experts” to assess mining and coal seam gas developments on, or within, two kilometres of strategic agricultural land.
In a foreword to the draft, New South Wales Premier Barry O’Farrell said the plan delivered on the Liberal and National political parties election platform to establish a balanced policy to better protect high-value agricultural land and water resources from coal and coal seam gas mining.
One of today’s rally organisers, Bev Smiles said people living in communities affected by coal and gas projects knew the difference between truth and political spin.
“It is a black Friday indeed,” she said.
“At the same time as the government is talking up its land use strategy they have a major expansion of the port of Newcastle, a fourth huge coal export terminal, on public exhibition.
“The fourth coal terminal proposes another 41 coal trains every day running through the Hunter Valley’s towns and suburbs.”
She said it was no wonder that the community had no faith in the government’s politicians and bureaucrats.
“How can the community accept the government is serious in its planning processes or even interested in the cumulative impacts of the coal and gas rush?” she asked.
“The fourth coal terminal will treble coal exports to over 300million tonnes a year.
“The community is merely collateral damage while the fossil fuel industry runs roughshod over everyone with government assistance.”
She said the rally would involve people from Singleton, Muswellbrook and Scone plus small communities throughout the region, including Putty, Gloucester, Bylong, Broke, Bulga, Baerami, Wybong and the Merriwa district.
Speakers would include Muswellbrook mayor Martin Rush and representatives of the Singleton Shire Healthy Environment Group, New South Wales Farmers Federation, agricultural irrigators and Gloucester’s anti-coal and coal seam gas organisations.
A taste of community anger and frustration over the draft land use plan and coal and gas mining expansion was demonstrated at a land use strategy “drop-in session” at Singleton Library on Wednesday evening.
About 30 community members complained loudly to six state government bureaucrats about the draft land use plan and existing long-term industrial impacts throughout the region.
Community members said the draft plan did not protect anything, their complaints on many issues had gone unheeded, cumulative impacts were not accurately assessed or acted upon, agriculturalists throughout the region could not afford to have water aquifers further damaged by industry, mining companies were abusing taxpayer-funded infrastructure, land remediation had not been successful and penalities were inadequate to stop mining officials from overlooking environmental protection measures.
The bureaucrats said they were public servants and could not comment on or be accountable for political statements by other people, they sympathised with the complainants and asked them to make more written submissions for government consideration.
Government spokesman Paul Searle said feedback received on the night was constructive and covered a wide range of topics, including exclusion zones and protection of aquifers.
Representatives of four government agencies attended to hear local views and answer questions on issues critical to the Upper Hunter, he said.
The feedback would now form an important input to the process of finalising draft plans and policies, he said.
The Greens political party mining spokesman Jeremy Buckingham slammed the state government yesterday for scheduling the Singleton land use forum at the same time as a New South Wales Transport masterplan forum in Newcastle.
“Communities see a clear link between mining, land use and transport and the operation of the port,” Mr Buckingham said.
“Most of the traffic clogging the New England Highway and Lower Hunter roads and rail network is mining traffic.”